Easter weekend looked a little different due the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced holiday traditions to be modified in the name of public health by way of drive-in style worship services and seeing the Easter Bunny at a distance.
On Saturday morning the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department, the Nolensville Police Department and other first responders escorted the Easter Bunny throughout Nolensville neighborhoods to allow children to get a glimpse of the holiday staple from a distance.
The Easter Bunny rode in an NVFD fire truck on a tour of the town that lasted more than 3 hours where they were met by children and families on front porches, sidewalks and front yards, some even sporting their own pair of fuzzy ears.
Missy Guthrie, who co-owns Nolensville Ace Hardware with her husband, helped bring the Easter Bunny to life, an experience that she said happened in part due to having all the right pieces of the puzzle and served as an opportunity to bring happiness to many in uncertain times.
"It was great because the kids were so excited, but really the parents were almost just as excited and I think it just gave everybody something happy and some hope," Guthrie said in a phone call. "I think I was just blessed maybe more than anyone else because I got to see everybody smiling and happy. It was just a really awesome experience."
Easter Sunday was also modified at Jenkins Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Nolensville. Despite the heavy rains and occasional lightning, the church held a drive-in style service.
More than a dozen vehicles parked in the churches parking lot with their radios tuned to 87.9 FM where they heard Pastor Rev. Jason Mikel's sermon. Mikel spoke from the steps of the church for the service, which was also live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
"The drive-in service was actually bittersweet," Rev. Mikel said in an email. "On one hand, it was wonderful to see everyone fulfill their need to worship God by coming together as a church community. I wondered what the response would be but as cars started streaming in, I understood the importance of it all. People needed to worship and to do it as a community of faith, even if we were physically distancing from each other."
Mikel encouraged drivers to respond to the sermon at a distance by "flashing lights for Jesus or honk for hallelujah," an action that showed both their connection and separation during such unprecedented times.
"Jenkins is a close church. We know each other's names and stories. So to see a distance, and see regulars not there because of the challenge of it all, means we were missing something. It made me long for a day when this is all over. Still, I had a blast. I felt like the church witnessed to the importance of our faith story, and the power of Easter, and I was happy we did it so safely," Mikel said.
Mikel said that they began live-streaming services as soon as they were forced to suspend in-person worship due to health concerns, but said this was the first drive-in style worship he's been a part of, a service he said is especially important to his congregation during the stressful and uncertain times.
"We're trying to make sense of a time in our lives that is different than anything we've ever dealt with, so questions like, 'Where's God in all this?' are at the forefront of their faith thoughts. Did God cause this? Is God an absentee Landlord? If not, what's God doing? These are important questions and as we've talked about them through the video devotionals, we've attracted other people who wonder the same thing." Mikel said. "But the beautiful part is that it's not shaken people's faith. Instead, it's emboldened them to do something through their faith to help out their neighbors."
Mikel said that while the situation is not ideal it has given him a chance to explore how to use technology to better connect with his congregation, as well as continuing to stay connected through phone calls, sending letters or talking from a safe distance from the street when people are at home.
"One good I've found is that I've had the freedom by necessity to explore alternative ways to engage people in the faith. Through the Easter Service, to the video devotionals, to a couple of zoom groups we are gearing up for now (The Bible and The Blues will compare the plight of the Judeans during Babylonian exile with the early Blues musicians in the post reconstruction south; and The Women of Christian History will study the leadership of the women in the church from biblical days until today), I've explored unique ways of binding us together through technology," Mikel said.
Mikel said that those struggling with the current situation should look toward professional help in whatever way that they might need it during these times, as well as offering faith to help in challenges today and ahead of us all.
"From a faith point of view though, the way of Jesus is full of grand reversals that on the surface look foolish. The last will be first and the first will be last? Blessed are those who are hungry, crying, and poor? Woe to the rich, laughing, and well fed? This is not what the world tells us is true, but somehow through God it is. For those who are hurting, healing sometimes feels just as foolish. So, my hope for us all, and especially those who are struggling because of what is occurring today, is we embrace the way of Jesus which is always about resurrecting good from bad, making whole the brokenhearted, and lifting up the left out," Mikel said. "The real faith, not ticket to heaven kind but the real Jesus faith, is about a community of believers that lives out Jesus' way of redemption. We all need it and I pray that anyone can find it in the church I pastor."