Memories and meanings make Easter special for Auburn’s church leaders

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The message is a powerful one. And it’s not about the Easter Bunny or egg hunts. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of Christian churches in Auburn and around the world. For the community’s religious leaders, it’s a special time of year. Pastor Barbara Smith of Pioneer United Methodist Church said she grew up with the traditional trappings of Easter time, including the new clothes, Easter egg hunts and getting together with family. “It wasn’t until I was a young adult that it clicked for me,” Smith said. “Our faith is rooted in the resurrection and when I started to look at it that way, I came to know that Christmas wasn’t the most important holiday. It’s Easter.” Father Brian Atienza, of St. Joseph Catholic Church, grew up in the Philippines and comes from a different Easter tradition but has arrived at the same conclusion. “Easter is pretty much the highlight of the year,” Atienza said. “I often tell parishioners that it’s better than Christmas. It’s a great affirmation of our faith, especially for those who suffer hardships. It tells us that after death, there is resurrection.” Atienza said his most lasting memory from the Philippines is taking part in a unique tradition called Salubong – a celebration where male and female parishioners assemble before sunrise and then march to the church as separate, segregated throngs singing and praying. The male and female groups arrive at the church to join together to rejoice, he said. Pastor Craig Kelley, who recently arrived from Montgomery, Ala. to lead the Gold Country Church, said his most vivid Easter moment came three years ago when a Hindu woman spoke to his congregation in Alabama about embracing the Christian faith and suffering serious personal consequences. “For most people, coming to the Christian faith doesn’t cost us anything,” Kelley said. “For this very intelligent, 27-year-old PhD, it cost her a family. When she embraced her new faith, they considered her dead.” Kelley, who doesn’t own a cowboy hat, will be leading worship at the 11 a.m. Cowboy Church Service at the Gold Country Fairgrounds before Sunday’s Auburn Wild West Stampede rodeo. Some of his inspiration will come from that service three years ago, he said. “It really made the meaning of Easter come alive to me,” Kelley said. Pastor Rob Patterson of Bell Road Baptist Church said that his connection with Christ began after he attended an Easter service many years ago. “It was the start,” Patterson said. Patterson said his church isn’t adopting any of the commercial trappings of Easter to help spread its message, although it isn’t against eggs hunts or Easter bunny stories. “If people are hearing the words of what the church is preaching, then God is winning,” Patterson said.