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Kentucky Baptists look forward to being together again for Easter

By MARK MAYNARD

Kentucky Today

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Pastor Chad Fugitt remembers last Easter as a surreal moment as they live-streamed a service with had four people in the sanctuary of Ormsby Heights Baptist Church.

“We had around five of us come in on Sunday morning to do the live stream,” he said. “I preached on hope in the pandemic. I know a lot of people were online, on YouTube and Facebook watching, but it was surreal. Here we were on Easter Sunday and preaching on hope in the pandemic and I was looking at five people.”

This Easter will be different for Ormsby Heights and nearly every other Kentucky Baptist church.

“We are thrilled,” said John Lucas, the pastor of Pikeville First Baptist Church. “It has been a year like no other, completely unprecedented. We get to have Easter services in person and be close to one another. It’s something we took for granted for so long. Now to have it back is incredible.”

Last year, Lucas spoke at a drive-thru service on a sloped parking lot at Pikeville High School because the church parking lot couldn’t accommodate enough cars.

But preaching to cars can seem a little artificial too, especially on Easter.

“I remember thinking to myself that these are the early stages of the pandemic and this is so unusual and odd, but knowing we would one day come out of it gave me hope. When we get to the other side of this and people start coming back, it’s going to make those services so much sweeter. We won’t take it for granted again.”

Pastor Mike Blankenship of Oakland Avenue Baptist Church in Catlettsburg said he held their Easter service online last year as well. He said it was the first time he hadn’t been in church on Easter in more than 40 years.

“It definitely was odd, to be sitting at home (on Easter),” he said. “Ever since we went back to full-time services in May last year, our folks have still not gotten over how grateful they are to be in church each Sunday. They’re not taking it for granted because it was taken away for a while by the pandemic. They are so glad to be back in church.”

Blankenship said one member simply broke down and wept in the hallway on her first Sunday back at church.

He said they have regained 60 to 70% of attendance from pre-COVID numbers. “We had folks in church this past Sunday who haven’t been since February or March of last year,” the pastor said.

Lucas said missing out on the normal Easter service last year has spurred church members for Sunday’s service when they will gather inside the church and not in a parking lot.

“People are going to show up for Easter; we want to use it as an outreach. Like eternity, we can’t take anything for granted,” he said.

What the pandemic has done, however, is allowed the church to evaluate the programs in place and determine which ones are furthering the gospel and which ones may need tweaking or eliminating, Lucas said.

“It’s like a church replant,” he said. “We’ve had to think from the ground up. A lot of things we used to do that were built into tradition, COVID took those things off the table. Now we get to optimistically rethink why we did things and put them back intentionally.

“COVID has removed the phrase, ‘We’ve never done it that way before,’ from our vocabulary.”

Adam Hackworth, a young pastor at Perryville Baptist Church, didn’t get to hold an in-person service last Easter. But this Sunday he will be leading three services, two at his church and a sunrise service at the Perryville Battleground which is part of the area’s ministerial association Easter program.

“I preached to an empty church,” he said of last year when he had to record his message. Hackworth said he couldn’t put into words how that impacted him. He’s excited and has his message for Sunday ready to go.

“The essence behind it is we’ve lived our lives so closed, but the resurrection opens it up to the most amazing opportunity and that’s a life with Christ,” he said. “This will be my first Easter (as a pastor) with people (in the audience). Things are happening here. We’re excited about what God is doing.”

Fugitt said they are moving Easter services to the Family Life Community Center because they can put 500 in that building with social distancing in place. “Our people are longing to worship together,” he said.

“We decided we’re going to have a big day of worship. We sort of shut our small groups down for Sunday and moved the service time to 10 a.m. We’re inviting all our church family to come together and hear the gospel on Easter Sunday.”

Fugitt said they will observe all the social distancing guidelines, which is what prompted them to move the service to the larger space on the church campus.

Despite the pandemic, Fugitt said the church has gained membership and is running about 85% of pre-COVID numbers.

However, he’s looking forward to being able to preach to more than four people in the congregation this Easter.