Churches across Pasco and Hillsborough counties are gearing up for a wide array of Holy Week events and Easter celebrations.
Some churches will do re-enactments of the Last Supper and Good Friday, while others will include egg hunts, pancake breakfasts, barbecue meals and other festivities.
Whatever they’re doing, churches are ready to greet regulars and visitors alike, as they commemorate the last days of Jesus’ life and celebrate his resurrection.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, at 2348 Collier Parkway, expects about twice as many people at its Easter services as normally attend its weekend Masses, said the Rev. Ron Aubin, the church’s pastor.
“A normal Sunday, it would be about 3,000 to 3,500. Easter, it will be over 7,000,” the pastor said.
Aubin said the Easter message, in part, will be this: “He (God) sends his son (Jesus) as savior of the world, and that we who believe in him and die in the waters of baptism and rise with him in the waters of baptism, will also rise to the eternal life.
“I have the hope of one day rising from the dead. And hope is not wishing. Hope is believing. It is something that’s coming. It’s just not here yet,” Aubin said.
Like Our Lady of the Rosary, Van Dyke Church in Lutz and New Walk Church — which has campuses in Zephyrhills, Dade City and Holiday — also are expecting a big boost in attendance.
“We’ll probably have basically a doubling of attendance,” said Rev. Matthew Hartsfield. We usually worship anywhere around 23 (hundred), 2,400, on a typical weekend. We’ll probably see 5,000 on Easter weekend,” said Hartsfield, pastor at Van Dyke Church, 17030 Lakeshore Road in Lutz.
Leading up to Easter weekend, “we simply strongly encourage our members, our existing members to be inviting friends and relatives, acquaintances and neighbors and to simply be more intentional about just having kind of an open heart to people who might be willing to receive an invitation to come and celebrate Easter,” Hartsfield said.
The service itself is very similar to a typical Van Dyke service, Hartsfield said.
“We typically have a very high energy, high celebration time of music and worship and our messages are always positive and life-application oriented. We really don’t change much of that particular emphasis for Easter. We just simply have a very Easter-specific message,” Hartsfield said.
However, there is a special children’s program at all of its Easter services that children attend while their parents are in the main sanctuary.
In a society in which a growing number of people do not identify with any particular religious affiliation, Hartsfield said he thinks the best way to help encourage people to open their hearts is through making the love of Jesus real in their lives.
“Truly, only the Holy Spirit can arouse the human heart. But obviously, the Holy Spirit uses human believers to help the rising of that in non-believing hearts,” Hartsfield said.
“It’s really the way that Jesus himself said it would work,” Hartsfield said, citing a scriptural passage in which Jesus says that others will recognize his followers by how they love one another.
“If the world is going to know that we’re his disciples and he ever existed, it’s going to be demonstrated by our acts of love and of mercy and compassion,” Hartsfield said.
New Walk Church is expecting to nearly triple its normal attendance during Easter weekend, said Gary Baldus, lead pastor.
Normally, the church has an attendance of 2,000, but it expects around 6,000 during Easter weekend.
“We get that from a pretty big outreach that we do. We bring in a helicopter with eggs and they drop them,” Baldus said, noting there are other smaller activities, too.
“We go a little extra because we know that people are more likely to attend on this weekend than many other weekends of the year,” Baldus said.
He thinks that many people also attend Easter services because the mindset, “This is just what we do on Easter.”
For some, it’s a “Get right with God weekend,” Baldus said.
That may not be theologically accurate, but many people feel that way, Baldus said.
New Walk is ready to welcome newcomers and invite them to get involved.
“We do have our groups that we are launching on the next weekend that they can get connected to. We have a baptism the next weekend, that if they make a decision, they can come back to be baptized,” Baldus said.
Some of those visiting for Easter services will undergo a transformation and begin attending regularly. Others may come back in a month or six weeks.
“It is about life transformation through Jesus,” said Baldus, noting anyone who wants to find out more about the church’s services can visit EasterAtNewWalk.com.
Many other churches throughout Lutz, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Dade City, San Antonio, New Tampa and Zephyrhills also are planning special celebrations, including Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church, 1833 Exciting Idlewild Blvd., in Lutz.
Exciting Idlewild is planning four weekend celebrations.
Two services are scheduled for April 4, at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., with Hungry Harry’s Family Bar-B-Que and food from the Idlewild Kitchen from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On April 5, there will be two services at 9:15 a.m. and 11 a.m., featuring Ken Whitten, the church’s senior pastor, and its worship choir, orchestra and band.
Children, from age 5 through fifth grade, can enjoy their own Easter worship celebration at Kidz Cove.
Published April 1, 2015