Church-goers abound at Easter

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 22, 2013 

Easter Sunday is a little more than a week away and hundreds of people in Los Banos will be dressed to the nines, Bibles in hand, sitting in church on that day.

According to some local pastors Easter and Christmas are the two days that have the most parishioners venturing out of there homes to worship God.

"It's been going on forever. We call them Christers because you see them on Christmas and Easter," the Rev. Steve Hammond of Bethel Community Church said. "Some people are conditioned that way. They grew up in the church and on Easter and Christmas they (believe) they need to be in church."

The Rev. Dean Nelson of St. John's Lutheran Church said he believes churches get bigger attendance on religious holidays because families tend to come together around those times. He said he sees the same increase in attendance at his church during baptisms.

Nelson said he does take advantage of the extra attendance during religious holidays to politely remind the congregation of why it is good to come to church.

"I'm not the kind of preacher who beats up on people. I remind them of the benefits of attending church. Thanking God is not important because God needs it. It's important to remind us of (what we have)," Nelson said.

Jim Garrison, the pastor for United Methodist Church, also believes it's pointless to goad people into coming to church by making them feel guilty. But he does believe in outreach. He said he has plans to set up a system where the church calls members, whether they attend regularly or not, and reminds them of regular services.

Garrison said at a previous church he attended a pastor used to go into bars and tell patrons they should attend church.

"This one guy said 'if I went to church the roof would fall in.' Well, one day he went to church and it happened, some tiles on the roof fell," Garrison recounted. "We'll gladly replace a few ceiling tiles to get people to come to church."

Nelson said on Easter and Christmas the extra parishioners get him excited about his sermon. Garrison said he tries to have something different each year, but he largely keeps his sermons traditional.

"On Christmas you want to say Christ was born and on Easter you want to say Christ rose," he said. Hammond said he vigorously prepares for Sunday every week, because he's always expecting new people to come through the church door. Hammond said he does get larger groups on the religious holidays. He said on religious holidays he will see attendance go from 80 to 120 worshipers.

Hammond said the key to getting people to church is getting them involved, particularly on the holidays. He said on Christmas and Easter the children at his church will perform in plays and there will be special singing performances.

"People will come to see their kids," he said.

Garrison said on Easter his church has special decorations and has a ceremony involving a buried cross.

Nelson's church, alongside Calvary Baptist Church and United Methodist Church where Garrison preaches, will hold Sonrise Service at the O'Neil Forebay at 6:30 a.m. Easter morning followed by breakfast.

Garrison said spring, which arrived about 10 days before Easter, is a simile for what the holiday celebrates.

"Spring is a happy time, flowers blooming instead of the dead cold of winter. It's kind of like what Easter represents with Christ rising from the grave," he said.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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