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Much preparation leads to Easter services at local churches

March 02, 2018

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Getting ready for Easter, for most, involves shopping for a new outfit, planning a ham and egg menu and wrapping Easter gifts in cellophane. Preparation for the Easter celebration in most churches, however, looks quite different and begins months and months ahead.


The presentations at local churches, though varied and unique to each congregation, center around the last week in the life of Jesus Christ.


Tom Sye, music director at Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church and Julia P. Bryant music teacher, began looking at cantata selections almost a year ago. He chose “Portraits in Grace: A Cantata for Holy Week,” by Joseph M. Martin.


“He’s one of my favorite arrangers,” said Sye. “The cantata portrays activities of Christ during that last week before his crucifixion, the Holy Week.”


Choir members began learning and rehearsing the songs for the production when the new year began, meeting weekly to practice the cantata songs as well as the songs for the upcoming Sunday’s services.


The title of the musical production lends itself to visuals, and Sye has begun gathering props.


“For each song, I plan to have a portrait, a visual or object that will point out what the song emphasizes,” he said.


The cantata allows those in attendance to be taken back in time to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his final meal with the disciples, the garden scene and the crucifixion.


Sye said, “At the end of the cantata, the audience leaves the darkened church in silence, following behind a young girl in a white robe carrying the extinguished Christ’s candle. It represents the extinguished life of Christ in human form.”


Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, located on the corner of South Zetterower and East Main Street, will hold the cantata service at 6:30 p.m. on Palm Sunday, March 25. On Easter Sunday, the day begins with a joyous celebration, the Easter sunrise service at 7 a.m., followed by the regular service later in the morning.


Emit Grove Baptist Church, located at 1567 Emit Grove Road, began preparing for their Easter production over seven years ago. Well, not exactly, but sort of.


Emit Grove presents an outdoor drama for Easter. Senior Pastor Tim Huffingham has actually lost count of the exact number of years his church has presented the drama, but thinks it’s seven or eight years.


“We started off small and the drama has grown,” said Huffingham. “We’ve purchased costumes that include full-scale Roman soldier costumes with helmets and props.”


They’ve written their own script for the drama, and church members have built the outdoor props and sets.


“We have massive crosses made from wooden beams and a depiction of the Gate at Jerusalem. With the church owning 30 acres of property out here, we have the space to do some unique things. We have an area set up that is permanent for the drama, but we try to make it a little different each year,” he said.


Huffingham said that though the storyline is the same every year, the drama takes on a different perspective.


A couple of times, the set needed rebuilding.


 “Doing it this many times, we’ve learned some things,” said Huffingham. “We’ve rebuilt to make the sets more weather-durable at times, and we had to rebuild what Hurricane Matthew blew down.”


Huffingham lines up the actors from volunteers in the church about a month before the presentation.


“We have a core group of about 20 actors and actresses who have performed over the years. We use about eight to 10 actors most years, sometimes more for a bigger production, so most of them know what to do. We’ll have usually two full-scale rehearsals with everyone, and then smaller rehearsals for those with speaking parts.


The drama takes place at 7 a.m. Easter Sunday, which typically puts it close to sunrise each year.


“One year, Easter was so early in the year that we were off by about four or five minutes and we waited to start because it was too dark to see otherwise,” Huffingham remembered.


The choir, led by Connie Sherrod, presents a cantata during Sunday morning worship. That story is the life of Jesus, and choir members have been rehearsing since January in preparation.


Pierce Dickens, director of Music Ministries/organist at Statesboro First United Methodist Church chose “The Crucifixion” by John Stainer for his church’s Easter music. Called an oratorio, the musical production tells a story, like an opera, but without costumes, staging or narration.


FUMC choir members have also been rehearsing since the beginning of the new year. Dickens said he purposefully starts early so as not to require extra or late rehearsals.


Two soloists for the oratorio are university choral scholars. Tenor James Allen is a sophomore Georgia Southern student from Savannah, and bass singer Alex Smith is a senior from Brooklet.


The performance for FUMC takes place on Good Friday evening, at 7 p.m.


“I don’t know how you can truly celebrate Easter if you don’t first reflect on the crucifixion,” said Dickens. “With this program, we hope to heighten people’s awareness to the events leading up to the crucifixion, because if you try to envision the suffering and the sacrifice, I think it makes the celebration of resurrection even more real and moving.”


Trinity Episcopal Church on Country Club Road has a host of events leading up to Easter that actually began with the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper the night before Ash Wednesday.


On Feb. 14, the first day of Lent, Kilian carried on the tradition that she has for the last couple of years, called, “ashes to go,” for those who possibly couldn’t get to a an Ash Wednesday service like that of their church at noon and 6 p.m. on that day. Kilian imposed ashes on the foreheads of those who wanted to take part on the courthouse square and at the Georgia Southern Rotunda.


“As I impose the ashes from last year’s palm branches and make the sign of the cross on the forehead, I say the words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,’” she said.


Each Wednesday during Lent, the church has a light soup and sandwich supper at 6 p.m. with some type of service following the meal.


Events for those nights include hearing from newly-elected Mayor Jonathan McCollar and “52 Weeks of Giving” founder, Cindy Hatchell ,as well as about luggage restoration for foster children, “laundry love” fellowship at local laundromats and a game night.


The culminating events that take place during Holy Week begin with a congregational entry on Palm Sunday, each person carrying palmetto fronds as reflective of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.


Passionate about all the events leading up to Easter, Killian said, “You have to walk through Holy Week to really understand Easter.” Trinity offers programs each evening during Holy Week.


The church has a noon and 6 p.m. service on Good Friday.


“It’s a very somber time,” Killian added.


On Saturday evening at 7 p.m., Trinity holds the Great Vigil service. Sarah Hancock, Trinity Episcopal choir director, said, “It’s the most sacred service of the whole year.”



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