Easter traditions make a return

Noah Dutton, Loudon Cumberland Presbyterian Church member, left, helps Charlie Harrison with a craft Saturday before the Easter egg hunt.

For many area churches, Easter Day traditions signaled a return to regular life.

Egg hunts and sunrise services were back on calendars after being canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Loudon Cumberland Presbyterian Church members attended the 34th annual Easter egg hunt Saturday. The hunt was first established in the church by the Rev. Beth Brakebill, church pastoral care pastor, and her mother for Brakebill’s 1-year-old daughter and other children in the church.

Now the event features subsequent generations of members hunting eggs.

Other than last year, Brakebill said the church has never missed an egg hunt hosted at her family home.

“We were devastated last year obviously. It was so sad,” she said. “… We’ve always just felt like God would provide the day, and then last year there was just no way around it.”

Brakebill was unsure what the crowd would look like Saturday due to last-minute planning. Church elders gave her the go-ahead a month beforehand. Loudon’s egg hunt occurred simultaneously after being rained out March 27.

In peak years, the hunt has seen upward of 100 kids, Brakebill said.

“We had to make some modifications,” she said. “One thing we usually have, everybody brings refreshments, and we sit around, and we fellowship, and there’s a lot of food, and that’s going to have to be to-go bags this year because they didn’t want to have the food set up and people congregated and doing that. We usually play games with the kids until time for the egg hunt, and we’re not doing any contact games or anything. But we are going to use this opportunity to present the Easter story and the resurrection story to the children before the egg hunt, and we have a special Easter resurrection craft for them to do.”

Sandy Crandall, Martel United Methodist Church children’s pastor, said the Easter egg hunt experienced changes this year, such as nixing the hot dog lunch typically served attendees.

Crandall was more than happy to fill the 1,000-1,500 eggs this year after last year’s hunt was canceled.

Children at Martel UMC also participated in crafts and listened to the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

“This year’s theme was a butterfly because it emerges changed just as Jesus did from the tomb and just as we are changed when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior,” Crandall said.

The egg hunt was the church’s biggest community event of the year.

“To not have it last year, as one of the more important days on the Christian calendar, it was devastating,” Crandall said. “We didn’t get to have Easter sunrise service. We didn’t have anything, and it was devastating to me. This year, knowing that we could carefully be able to start reaching out to the community. … I just feel like the people — we had 25 people from the community come today and to see the little children’s smiles on their faces and all the little, ‘Thank yous,’ that they gave me … It just makes my heart just swell up knowing that each day, each step, we’re a step closer to getting back to what we used to know as normal.”

At New Providence Baptist Church near Interstate 75 in Loudon, a packed sunrise service continued a long-held tradition.

The Rev. Mark Caldwell, church pastor, “kind of” hosted a sunrise service last year. While the service was virtual, he said 12-15 people showed up anyway.

This year’s service was packed, with people standing outside and bringing camping chairs because available seating was taken.

“It was the largest we’ve had since I’ve been here by far,” he said. “It’s very exciting. Just all of the Easter services — we had three Easter services yesterday — and all of them were the largest we’ve had in more than 55 weeks. … It was very good crowds.”

Caldwell said his heart was “so light” when he saw all the faces he hasn’t seen in nearly a year. He believes Sunday was a “milestone day” for the church.

“It was just remarkable,” Caldwell said. “Since this year, 2021, we choose a theme verse each year for the church, and this year we chose Psalms 122, verse 1. That verse says, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.’ After a year’s worth of not being able to go into face-to-face services, and we did some, we gradually moved back toward that, but now we’re in full programming again.

“One of the amazing things, we get several people who visit this sunrise service that are not part of our church,” he added. “They’re simply part of the community. They’ll come by and be part of the service.”

The Rev. Jody McGaha, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir City, said sunrise services are a tradition that was wholly canceled last year. Services this year were attended by about 50 people, which McGaha said is comparable to a “normal” year.

“It follows what occurred in the scriptural account of the resurrection,” McGaha said. “How the women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and in arriving at the tomb, they find that the stone has been rolled away and that Jesus has risen from the dead. Because of the scriptural teaching and the event given to us within the word of God, that’s why and how sunrise services have become such a vital part of what we call Resurrection Sunday.”