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Traditions disrupted as crisis continues
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Westwood Church of Christ leaders placed a cross outside the building and encouraged members of the congregation to adorn it with flowers. Pictured are sisters Perry Grae, left, and Collie McColloch.
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First Baptist Church pastor Jeff Owens prepares to deliver his Easter sermon to an empty auditorium. The Easter service was recorded Saturday morning and will be streamed Sunday on YouTube and Facebook.

Easter dresses will remain in closets.

Bustling church auditoriums will blare in silence.

Services throughout America will be viewed on smartphones and tablets.

It will be an Easter Sunday unlike any other as Christians celebrate their most meaningful religious holiday this weekend without the warm embrace of fellowship.

“This is unlike any Easter I ever remember,” said Jeff Page, pastor of McMinnville Church of God on Locust Street. “Easter is all about the resurrection of Christ, but it means so much more for families. It’s about new dresses and egg hunts. It’s about gathering together for a family photo. It’s about a big dinner with everyone sitting around the table. We’re still going to deliver an Easter message, but I hope people find a way to continue some of the other traditions too.”

Like many other preachers, Page said his Easter message will be delivered online. He’s conducted drive-in church services in the parking lot the past two Sundays, but shied away from such an arrangement on Easter out of concerns for storms.

“The drive-in services have worked really well,” said Page. “I stand in the back of my pickup and we have a portable sound system. People pull up and roll down their windows and listen to the sermon. But it’s something that can’t happen if it’s raining.”

Unity Church of Christ in the Centertown area won’t be doing anything for Easter. Preacher Harold Cook is encouraging his congregation of around 90 to watch other church services that are broadcast or livestreamed.

“This is going to be different,” said Cook. “We’re not doing anything at all. We have an older congregation so we shut everything down when this all started. I won’t be doing anything online because I’m too old for that.”

First Baptist Church pastor Jeff Owens said his Easter message will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the church’s regular worship time. He said it will be a full service with a small group of musicians to make it as close to normal as possible.

“I’d love to have a crowd,” said Owens. “It gets lonesome preaching to an empty room. But church is not all about a building. Part of our faith experience is to gather together to worship, but we can still do other things. If this situation has taught us anything, it’s learning how to pivot.”

Owens encouraged families to try to carry out regular Easter traditions to the best of their ability. “Don’t sit around in your pajamas,” he suggested.

Despite stay-at-home orders from the governor, Easter is still an impactful celebration, Owens said. The difference is the message will be delivered this year through technology instead of face-to-face.

“I’ve heard it said that coronavirus has stolen Easter from us and that’s not the case,” said Owens. “For believers, this is the epicenter of our faith and it’s a very special day.”