Lent and Easter are transformative seasons, not only because they represent a tremendous amount of planning in local churches, but because they represent so much of our shared human experience. Whether your congregation plans services according to the Christian year or not, our people are constantly in the rhythms of death and new life.
Part of the church’s purpose in our communities is to sit with our neighbors in suffering, despair, death and grief — serving, blessing and mourning with those who mourn. We serve the Son of God, who was “acquainted with grief,” after all.
And we are a people shaped by Easter, bearing witness to God’s ways of stepping into tragedy, injustice and darkness to bring new life.
This Easter, congregations within The Wesleyan Church bore witness to God’s ability to bring new life from grief. Centro Familiar Cristiano (CFC) in San Diego, California experienced 22 baptisms, including an entire family of four (a couple and their two sons) who were baptized, with eight people stepping into a relationship with Christ for the first time.
“We feel so blessed to have witnessed this,” said Liliana Castaneda, executive assistant at CFC. But these baptisms are only the beginning of CFC’s organized discipleship model, which pairs new believers with theological education and an invitation to find a specific way to use their gifts for the edification of the body. “We are very excited of what is to come!”
Calvary Wesleyan Church (CWC) in Harrington, Delaware, led a 24-7 prayer movement leading up to Easter, in which people in the congregation committed to praying for one-hour increments around the clock on behalf of the church community and the larger church as a whole. “Our people were faithful and disciplined to continuously seek the Lord and intercede for others during the entirety of Lent, and some people are continuing this movement of disciplined prayer in our church-community to this day,” reflected Rev. Caleb Dunn, lead pastor at CWC.
CWC’s Lenten journey also included a commitment to Jesus’ ways of serving others. “Just as Jesus served the disciples by washing their feet and called us to serve as his followers, we committed to raising the funding for and packing approximately 81,000 meals for people who are verified to be in need around the world through one of our missional partnerships,” Rev. Dunn shared.
These efforts were intentionally planned and coordinated to express faithfulness to the spirit of new life — but ultimately, if you were present within the worship service, Rev. Dunn says you would not have noticed much difference between Easter services and a typical week. “The good news is that, even in the radical simplicity, people were saved by the power of God’s grace, there were planned baptisms as well as completely spontaneous baptisms, we shared in Spirit-led times of prayer and confession, and many lives have been changed,” said Rev. Dunn.
Their neighbors toward the North, Newark Wesleyan Church (NWC) in Newark, Delaware, had initially planned a community event before Easter that had to be rescheduled; in the process, the local news publicized the event, resulting in an attendance far beyond their expectation. “This was just a really fun time to connect with the community and love them well,” said Rev. Victoria Covington, co-pastor at NWC. They followed this up with an Easter sunrise service, followed by breakfast and a usual service. “The spirit was all-around, just very joyful,” reflected Rev. Covington.
Meanwhile at Greenville Multicultural Church (GMC) in Welcome, South Carolina, all generations were drawn into a physical expression of the power of new life over death. On Good Friday, the church built a large tomb in the corner of the room, which was meant to be a guided reflection space. “Children would go in with glowsticks and take time to pray and reflect and help younger generations of church know that facing a tomb, facing death, facing grief, is a normal and good thing to do” said Pastor Clay Crofford, GMC’s pastor of Spiritual Formation.
And on Sunday, the stone was rolled away, and the lights were on within the tomb, and only grave clothes remained. “We’ve kept the tomb up, and the kids (even the week after) want to be in there — instead of being afraid, they’ve embraced the spirit of life overcoming death,” said Pastor Clay. The hope is that every generation has a sense that, in Easter, the gospel is good news that accompanies them even through the greatest loss.
College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana saw seven baptisms, many of which were milestones in long mentoring relationships and friendships between people in the congregation. One of those baptisms, of Jamarey Reid, comes after years of relationship with Dr. Daniel Rife, who mentored Jamarey through a local elementary school partnership, and morphed into a friendship as Jamarey and his brother, Justin, grew up. On Easter, Daniel got to accompany Jamarey in the water as his baptism mentor.
“A simple yes is what began my relationship with Jamarey,” reflected Daniel, director of Liturgy and Formation at CWC. “I didn’t know what it would become or how long the relationship would last. I didn’t know the ways I would play a part in his formation, and I didn’t know the ways he would play a part in mine.
“There were never any major crises or moments that seemed pivotal or dramatic from the outside, just a continual yes to the next simple way to make time, to carve out space or to intentionally find ways to better know, support and care for him,” said Daniel. “Jamarey was never a project; he was just grafted into the regular rhythms of my life. I had no mission or vision, I simply had a friendship. But all my little yeses were matched by numerous others’ yeses in the local church, so that, what had started as a single friendship eventually transformed into a whole family.”
In all these stories from around The Wesleyan Church this Easter, the small “yeses,” hidden acts of spiritual friendship, discipleship and connection, multiply as they bring new life to our neighborhoods.
For more stories of how lives, churches, and communities are being transformed by the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ, visit wesleyan.org/news.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.