By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Local churches are doing their best to continue to feed the souls of their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic and still observe Easter in a manner befitting the holiday.

Ochre Hill Baptist Church will hold a special drive-in Easter service at 11 a.m. Sunday.

“This is the peak of our Christian calendar, life and scriptures,” the Rev. Hunter Gosnell said. “The Resurrection is the most important event in all of human history. We must cherish it and celebrate it together.”

Services will be conducted over a public address system. Parishioners will stay in their cars with a parking space between each vehicle.

If there are not many cars, attendees could be allowed out of cars.

“If there is space then feel free; if there is no space then stay put please for the safety of everyone,” Gosnell said. 

The parking lot can accommodate approximately 20 cars with new spacing guidelines. Gosnell is not sure the church will continue the services after Easter.

Sheppard of the Hills Lutheran Church is broadcasting services on its Facebook page and YouTube channel Sundays at 11 a.m.

First Baptist Church has adapted by conducting worship services online.

“We have elected to do Facebook Live rather than prerecorded broadcasts,” Pastor Jeff Mathis said. “Last Sunday’s broadcast was from my front porch.”

Under current conditions, the best way for people to love their neighbor is to practice physical distancing and to find other ways to worship, he said.

Mathis said Sunday’s service will be unlike any observance of Easter he has ever conducted.

To accommodate for the observance of Holy Week, Mathis and pastors from First Presbyterian and First United Methodist Churches have put together a packet of devotionals. The devotionals are being sent out by email and social media all week.

First Baptist is also keeping The Flowering of the Cross tradition alive with a new twist.

Rather than parishioners bringing fresh flowers to the sanctuary on Easter, the church will place the cross on the steps in front of the church Saturday. Church members and any Jackson County resident can bring their flowers to place on the cross.

“What a beautiful way for us to revel in spring and acknowledge that God will redeem this crisis,” Mathis said. “It is a proclamation of faith.”

Mathis asks that people remember physical distancing when they stop by.

On Sunday, First Baptist services will be livestreamed on Facebook at 10:30 a.m.

“It will be done in an intimate way,” he said. “Instead of a massive choir and packed pews, we will lean into the Easter Sunday narrative.”

Mathis sees this Easter observance as crucial because the events of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection mirror what people are feeling.

“The resurrection of Jesus happened in a way that can resonate with us right now,” he said.

There is a feeling of darkness. People are experiencing fear and confusion. They are under quarantine and in some cases unable to be around friends and family members.

For Christ’s followers the crucifixion and resurrection took place under a cloud of “confusion and suspicion” and the Disciples were hiding out in a house.

“It provides us an opportunity to consider what it was like for the women at the tomb and Peter as they tried to figure out what this meant,” Mathis said.