Apr. 3—LUMBERTON — Some local church leaders are more equipped for the second Easter celebration during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to lessons learned since the virus' arrival in March 2020.
Vertical Church in Lumberton has uploaded livestreamed Sunday morning services to Facebook or YouTube each weekend, said Hector Miray, the church's pastor. Before COVID-19, the church would upload Sunday worship services on its app during weekdays.
"I don't think it's hurt attendance because the folks that want to come will show up. The connection with the people is more valued than the message from the stage," Miray said.
The church, with its Lumberton, Elizabethtown and Pembroke locations, held separate prayer services 7 p.m. Thursday and communion services 7 p.m. Friday, he said. Plans to hold traditional in-person Easter services on Sunday at its various locations are in place. Social distancing and sanitation measures are to be followed at each location.
In 2020, Vertical Church observed Holy Week during the week leading up to Easter by broadcasting devotionals online each day at 7 p.m. The Lumberton location livestreamed its 11:15 a.m. Easter service.
"We are still sanitizing our facilities before and in between services, as well as distancing our seating and encouraging and providing masks. We want people to feel free to worship but also to know that we are called to put the needs of others first, and we do this in simple ways," Miray said.
If he could go back to March 2020, he would share some words to himself, other church leaders and members of the church congregation, Miray said.
"I would tell them that while COVID may be isolating, it isn't going to be the biggest source of division you will face as a church over the next year. To make sure you are holding yourselves accountable in your own spiritual walks, so that you will be walking in the spirit of God when everything else rises up. Focus on unity and grace in Christ," he said in a statement.
Looking back, the church would have reached out more to people who were isolated if possible, he said.
"We also would have met outside sooner than we did. Once we began meeting outside in June, we saw how much we had been missing that connection with others. But remaining within legal guidelines is a priority," Miray said.
East Lumberton Baptist Church will have a sunrise service at 7 a.m. and breakfast at 8 a.m. on Sunday, the Rev. Mike Bowen said. It will also have its two Easter services in the church parking lot to accommodate a crowd, and have its Easter cantata inside the church at 6 p.m., with a baptism service.
All of its services are back on schedule except Sunday School, which Bowen hopes to resume in May.
He has learned "patience, flexibility and innovation" while his church has navigated COVID-19, Bowen said.
The church held a virtual sunrise service at 7 a.m. this past Easter Sunday. Church members were encouraged to go outside their homes to watch the sun rise and participate in the service.
Some church members gathered in the church's prayer garden, where the service was livestreamed on the church's website, YouTube channel, Facebook page and mobile app, Bowen said.
The worship service was held drive-in style.
"You got to have creative ways to share the gospel," he said.
The church's services are being held inside, with COVID-19 protocols in place, including sanitizing the facility between services.
"We're in full swing," he said.
Fairmont Baptist Church is offering an online and in-person service on Sunday at 11 a.m., the Rev. Carter McNeese said. The service can be viewed on its Facebook page. The church had only an online Easter service in 2020.
Members can attend a sunrise service in Fairmont Community Park organized by Trinity United Methodist Church at 6:45 a.m. Sunday, he said. Mayor Charles Townsend is scheduled to speak during the service.
"I think that we have been really good at talking about relying on God," McNeese said of himself and the church before COVID-19's arrival.
McNeese said the coronavirus has "shown truly what it means to rely on Him."
The reverend said there were times during the pandemic when he was worn out and had to depend fully on the God he serves to help him carry out his daily tasks and duties to the church.
McNeese also said he is thankful for the technology that made it easier for churches to adapt during the virus.
He also has learned another lesson through it all.
"While we are very thankful for the online opportunities we have had ... it is not a substitute to real, in-person, face-to-face human connection," McNeese said.
Church members should continue to remain cautious, and though they can see "the edge of the woods" as it relates to the coronavirus, they're not out of them quite yet, he said.
"We're not back to normal, whatever that's going to be," McNeese said.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]