Local ministers say fewer of the faithful attend Easter Sunday services
When the Rev. Dr. Keith C. Alderman takes to the pulpit at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Leominster this Easter morning he plans to preach about good winning over evil.
“God’s goodness always can overcome or trump human evil,” he said this week.
The candles will be lit, beautiful stained-glass windows will look down on the faithful as they have for decades and music will fill the air at the start of Easter services today.
Unlike your parents’ or grandparents’ day, it may be easier to find a seat in the pews.
In years past churches would fill up on Easter and Christmas with believers praising God, but ministers around the region this week said people are not coming to church the way the did in the past.
Alderman concedes God has a lot of competition on Sunday mornings.
The blue laws have long since been taken off the books, so retail stores are open and sports leagues with baseball, soccer and lacrosse are enticing alternatives to sitting in pews, he said.
According to a 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey on religious attendance, 53 percent of Americans 65 years or older attend services at least weekly but only 33 percent in the 18-29 years old demographic attend at least weekly.
The doors to churches remain open and inviting, religious leaders said.
‘Meaning and purpose’
Alderman said he looks at the country’s state of affairs and believes people who are under stress want to find meaning to their lives.
“Every Sunday I try to have for the people a positive, relevant, faithful and biblically based message,” Alderman said. “I think people are ultimately searching for a higher power, we call it God, to give meaning and purpose to their lives.”
St. Anna Catholic Church in Leominster has 1,300 to 1,400 registered parishioners but only about 600 attend weekly, said the Rev. Jamie Callahan.
Earlier in his career the pews would be packed for Easter and Christmas Masses but not so much now, he said.
Callahan doesn’t preach his homilies toward winning back Catholics who attend Mass only a couple of times a year.
If they hear God’s call, they will come, he said.
“My focus is more on just proclaiming the good news and celebrating the Easter celebration,” he said. “And hopefully through the celebration, through the community, people come back sometimes because it’s not me but God working through people to bring them back.”
‘People telling people’
The Rev. Dr. Peter Temple at Highland Baptist Church in Fitchburg said he plans to preach the Resurrection of Christ today.
“I just walk them through the accounting of Luke,” he said.
About 200 people attend weekly services. A few extra may come in today but Temple is not expecting a big rush.
Churches have Facebook and websites, but many do not market themselves through social media.
“Our primary way of getting our message out is people telling people,” Temple said. “The old-fashioned way.”
Once believers get inside the church, they find a mix of old and new, he said.
“We do what’s called a blended service,” Temple said.
They sing traditional hymns and songs to go with the preaching but they include contemporary music and use an overhead projector to display lyrics.
“Something for everybody,” Temple said.
‘Hope, rebirth, possibility’
The Rev. Susan Suchocki Brown is pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Leominster.
The congregation once had membership in the hundreds but has dwindled to about 70 on Sundays.
Easter is not the most significant holiday because the faithful do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus as a sign of his divinity, she said.
The early Christians were not surprised by the dead coming back to life, she said. There are examples of it with the touch of prophet Elisha’s corpse raising a man from the dead in the Old Testament, and Jesus raising his friend Lazarus, Brown said.
Brown said she is more excited by Palm Sunday, when Jesus defied authority and rode into Jerusalem even though he knew he was a marked man.
She plans to deliver a sermon on hope today.
“How can one not like Jesus?” she said. “His message is so relevant today. My message is hope, rebirth, possibility.”
Church remains relevant in the new millennium because Jesus’ message crosses the span of time, Brown said.
He related to the fringe elements of his time including such groups as women and lepers.
“If it weren’t for those people I don’t think we would have Christianity as we have it today,” she said.
Brown said she tries to make religion and church life relevant for people in the post-modern age. She uses humor, current cultural events and experiences such as the movie “The Hunger Games” in her sermons.
“I’ll talk about moral issues that come up in TV shows,” she said.
‘He reigns victorious’
The Rev. Jeremy St. Martin at St. John Church in Townsend said his homily will be about the message of hope.
“The hope that we have in the risen Lord is the greatest hope that could ever be imagined,” he said. “And it’s our joy to know that Christ has risen from the grave and conquered sin and death, and he reigns victorious now.”
St. John Church on Saturday welcomed into the church adults who completed the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and that helps spread the faith, St. Martin said.
The Easter celebration began at sunset Saturday with the transition from death to life, he said.
Parishioners were scheduled to have an Easter fire outside the church followed by a candlelight procession inside where darkness would be overcome by Christ’s light, St. Martin said.
The music transitioned from somber to upbeat.
Sunday morning services are filled with joy at the celebration of the risen Lord, St. Martin said.
“There are some being fully initiated into the life of the church, and that is inspiring to adults and children to see adults who didn’t grow up going to mass every Sunday,” he said. “In our day and age in our town there are some adults who looked at what it meant and wanted to become full members. That is inspirational and often there are more because of those strong witnesses.”
The Catholic Church uses the Internet to spread its message.
World Youth Day will be in Rio de Janeiro 2013 and it wouldn’t be possible without the communications of the Web, St. Martin said.
Locally, the parish sometimes posts YouTube videos and its website townsendcatholic.org, St. Martin said.
St. Martin said he expects to see Catholics who go to church only on Easter and Christmas.
The church bulletin this week will explain what lapsed Catholics can do to return to the faith.
“Some people don’t know how, some people have serious questions,” St. Martin said. “A lot of time people have suffered bitter disappointments, sometimes they have serious moral failings in their life and they want to come back but don’t know how.”
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