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Easter is here, which means more people attend church today than most other Sundays

CNN, Christianity Today, Gallup, Pew Research Center and many church pastors share a common insight: More people attend church on Easter Sunday than on most other Sundays.

Christmas and Mother’s Day are the second and third highest days of attendance.

The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that online searches for church also spike around Easter.

Easter is the most important holiday in Christianity. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event that is the basis of Christianity. So, many people seek out religious services to celebrate that event.

Some Southern Illinois churches see that trend exhibited in their Easter services.

“For us, it’s higher. I would say about 33 percent higher. We are probably a good 30 percent up on that day,” said Joe Wagner, pastor of First Baptist Church in Du Quoin.

He said for some, it is all about tradition. They were raised going to church, so Easter is when they go to church.

For other Christians, Easter is about celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

“Easter is a day we celebrate our Lord, and they really do come to do that. They set that day aside,” Wagner said. “We believe and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. It’s just a huge day of celebration.”

First Baptist does several things to invite folks to attend on Easter Sunday, such as direct mail, Facebook and social media invites, and a free community event the week before Easter.

“We try to do community events and mailers, just different ways to let people know we are here and we want them to come," Wagner said.

Father Gary Gummersheimer of St. Andrew Catholic Church and the Rev. Larry Gilbert of Murphysboro United Methodist Church both say they do not see a large uptick in attendance numbers on Easter Sunday.

Gilbert said attendance at mainstream denominations continues to slowly decline throughout the year, and his church is no different.

“Attendance at traditional churches is being offset by a lot of newer, non-traditional churches,” Gilbert said.

“If we are going to continue to be a presence in society, we have to do more evangelism,” Gummer added, saying that by evangelism he means living faith in the gospel in relevant ways that impact people.

“In Africa, if you want to go to school, you go to a church school. If you need to go to the hospital, you go to a church-sponsored hospital,” Gilbert said.

The men say Americans sometimes forget that many of our great social and educational organizations were started by church denominations.

The Rev. Dr. Troy Benitone, directing pastor of Community of Faith Church in Marion and a former Methodist minister, said he has seen that attendance trend played out in some of the churches he has pastored, but not really at Community of Faith.

“When I was mainline pastor, we would see two times the attendance,” Benitone said. “When I moved to independent churches, I saw a slight increase.”

He said independent churches are more likely to treat Easter and Christmas like any other Sunday.

“They treated every Sunday like it was Easter and Christmas. I’m not saying we would not get a few more. We do see a little bit of an increase, maybe 10 or 15 percent, but we would see that on any Sunday we are doing something special.”

Benitone said the average age of the congregation makes a difference, too. If members of the congregation are between 25 and 45, they tend to go home to visit parents or grandparents for Easter, causing a slight downward tick in attendance.

If the ages fall between 55 and 75 or even 65 to 85, attendance goes the other way.

“At Community of Faith, people are proud to invite their friends and family and are bringing someone because there was a really good chance to invite them,” Benitone said. “A lot of people’s hearts are open to come to church on Easter, Christmas and mother’s day.”

Community of Faith will have a regular service, a resurrection service, on Easter Sunday.

“While we will be celebrating Easter and people will be a little more dressed up, it will feel like a regular Sunday,” Benitone said.

SI Project Prom
SI Project Prom transforms Eurma Hayes Center into prom boutique

CARBONDALE — A room of the Eurma Hayes Center was transformed into a prom fashion boutique by Southern Illinois Project Prom and Women for Change’s prom dress giveaway.

High school students in area schools were invited to come to the event and pick a perfect dress for prom. After finding a dress, the students also could choose accessories and shoes.

The event was the idea of SIU student Noeshia Washington. She said the idea came up when she was talking with her friends one night. She knew of a similar event in the Chicago area, and they all had dresses they no longer needed.

“One of my friends went to a prom dress give away in Chicago and got her dress,” Washington said.

She enlisted her friends to help, and they collected 110 dresses, 50 pairs of shoes and 50 different accessories.

On Feb. 24, they hosted their first prom giveaway at the Newman Center. It ended early when the center flooded. That is when Women for Change got involved.

Ginger Rye Sanders of Women for Change said one of the things the organization strives to do is encourage youth who are positively impacting their community.

“We said let’s do it again,” Sanders said.

She added that 49 percent of Carbondale residents live in poverty, so the need for programs like Southern Illinois Project Prom is great.

Women for Change helped secure use of the Eurma C. Hayes Center for the giveaway. Latia Hayes of S.I. Project Prom said the group began set up on Thursday evening. The room was set up like a boutique, with eight racks of dresses, two shelves of shoes and a long table filled with accessories. A dressing room was created out of an adjacent room.

Seamstresses were available in a nearby room to make alterations.

The SIU students and volunteers began setting up the boutique Thursday evening.

“We had four or five girls waiting in line when we opened at 10 a.m.,” Washington said.

“It was really rewarding because there was a line. The first girl got the first dress she tried on,” Natia Hayes, an SIU student volunteer, said. “One girl wasn’t going to prom and just came with her friend, but she left with a dress.”

The event drew students from Zeigler-Royalton and Johnston City high schools, along with Carbondale, Murphysboro and Marion.

Reanna Summers of Murphysboro tried on five dressed before she found the perfect one, a purple dress with satin bodice decorated with crystals and sequins and a full tulle skirt. When she walked out the dressing room, her expression let everyone know this was her dress.

“I didn’t plan on getting that one, but when I saw it, I liked it,” Reanna said.

“This leaves more money for the other stuff that goes with it,” Reanna’s mom Reagan Garrison said.

Skylar Pyle of Johnston City High School had a dress on lay-away but they did not get it paid off. She was looking for a replacement and found her perfect dress, a blue satin halter dress with a high-low hemline.

Alexia Isaacson of Zeigler-Royalton High School tried on several dresses but did not find one she really liked. She really liked the dress her cousin wore to prom, but it needed altered to fit her. She was able to make arrangements for her cousin’s dress to be altered by one of the volunteers. It will be ready for her prom on April 21.

Washington expected to have some dresses left at the end of the event. Girls who are interested in getting one of the dressed for prom are asked to contact Washington through the S.I. Project Prom Facebook page.

top story
Forestry agencies testing information-sharing program in Southern Illinois

SIMPSON — A new information-sharing system will allow Southern Illinois conservation partners to map the spread of invasive species using their smartphones.

Christopher Evans, a researcher with the University of Illinois at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Pope County, said several Southern Illinois forestry groups have come together to coordinate projects and share information.

The Shawnee National Forest, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the Shawnee Resource Conservation and Development Area are currently testing a shared database and cloud-based mapping system to track invasive species, prescribed fire and forest management data. Previously, the agencies were logging data independently of one another.

“This type of information-sharing in real time is what makes this project really innovative,” Evans said in an email.

Along with his colleague, Kevin Rohling, Evans has been working with partners to design and build the database.

The conservation partners recently completed a project mapping bush honeysuckle across multiple priority areas in Southern Illinois, Evans said. Distinct from native honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle is a low-growing shrub that out-competes native vegetation and restricts the survival of seedlings in forested areas. This leads to a reduction in plant population that has negative effects on the overall health of the ecosystem.

With the new system, which uses the cloud-based mapping program ArcGIS Online, researchers can view and enter data using their smartphones and tablets while they’re in the field.

“By using this information-sharing system, we are all able to track both where we've found this invasive (bush honeysuckle) and where we've looked but not found it. The result was a detailed map of the region that combined all of our information in a single location,” Evans said.

The program also allows the forestry partners to share management plans. Using the app, workers can see where other agencies plan to have a prescribed burn.

“By being able to see this type of information across agencies, we are able to identify areas where it makes sense to team up to do these burns jointly, allowing us to save time and money by reducing the amount of fire breaks we need to install and the time needed to prepare and implement the burns,” Evans said.

Such collaborations across agency boundaries will help conservation partners see the big picture and shed light on how they can better manage the forests.

“Our forests are something we all identify with here in southern Illinois. … People come from all across the nation to hike the trails, camp, hunt, ride horses, stay in cabins, do driving tours, or just experience our forests. Having healthy, diverse forests with all of the native plants and wildlife that comes with it is a big part of the draw,” Evans said.

Illinois Medicaid
Questions dog Illinois Medicaid managed-care switch

SPRINGFIELD — Hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents covered by Medicaid will see their health coverage change Sunday when they're transferred into managed care.

HealthChoice Illinois, a plan ordered by the Legislature in 2014 to reduce costs, enlists Managed Care Organizations to handle health care. MCOs purportedly focus on prevention and health maintenance with an eye toward lowering costs.

Critics have had plenty to say about the rollout of the four-year, $60 billion Illinois plan, from the way Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration contracted with the MCOs chosen, to concerns about the MCOs' reimbursement rates and the state's track record of monitoring them.

"HealthChoice Illinois provides the same services as traditional Medicaid, with enhanced features such as care coordination, which offers individuals direct help to find the right care at the right time and place for them," said John Hoffman, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

He said the department is "measuring how successfully plans are treating member conditions and will work with them to improve outcomes."

Managed care had already been the norm in Cook County and the new MCOs started work there Jan. 1. The expansion adds 550,000 clients in 72 counties . Those affected were notified earlier this year and had 30 days to choose a plan. Hoffman said they have 90 days after April 1 to switch if they change their minds.

The state maintains it will save as much as $300 million over the four-year deal because of the competitive rates, less overhead and more efficient administration.

But Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who tried unsuccessfully to require a traditional, wide-open bidding process, also has been concerned since an MCO under a similar plan in Iowa pulled out because it lost too much money.

"Are the networks set up and are providers ready to start accepting patients, or are we going to see major problems?" Harris asked. "I hope providers — the doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, durable goods providers — are in place."

One MCO, Molina Healthcare, issued a statement saying that for more than three decades the company "has been able to achieve cost savings while improving health outcomes through care coordination, commitment to quality and a focus on preventive care, which is at the core of the HealthChoice Illinois program."

But when another MCO, IlliniCare Health, announced last fall it would cut vendor payments for medical equipment by as much as 50 percent, more concern arose.

"We get into a situation where the rates are so low, with cuts of 10 to 50 percent, (medical equipment) companies can't even stay afloat," said Susan Agrawal of Chicago, who represents a group of parents of children known as "medically fragile, technologically dependent." Those children are set to join the program July 1, although legislation sponsored by Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, would exempt them.

An association of equipment providers wants further legislative intervention. Kevin Stewart, president of the Great Lakes Home Medical Services Association, calls the Rauner transition "rushed" and wants legislative strictures on the MCOs.

"Unless the General Assembly steps in to set parameters for managed care organizations, we fear this is nothing more than MCOs enriching themselves at the expense of the state's most vulnerable," Stewart said.

A message seeking comment from IlliniCare Health was not returned.

Sen. Dave Koehler, a Peoria Democrat, has legislation regulating the fees for durable medical equipment along the lines of current, fee-for-service rates.

Others have questioned the administration's ability to monitor the landscape.

Crespo released a letter last week, co-signed by Barrington Hills Republican Rep. David McSweeney and Democratic Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch of Hillside, to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, asking her to investigate the failure of HFS to monitor $7.1 billion in payments to MCOs during 2016.

The findings were published in January in a state audit that lawmakers had ordered to compare the state's costs for the existing MCO program with costs of traditional, fee-for-service plans. HFS spokesman Hoffman said at the time the "rebooted managed care program" underway this year would "ensure program integrity and accountability, protecting taxpayer dollars while providing quality care."

Eileen Boyce, spokeswoman for Democrat Madigan, said of Crespo's letter, "We are aware of the issue and have been closely monitoring it."