HERRIN — For some time, staff at Southern Illinois Worship Center have been preparing for Resurrection Day — Easter — the day when their average attendance increases by 40 to 50 percent over a typical Sunday turnout.

They've planned messages that they hope will help them better understand what the Resurrection message is about, in age-appropriate formats, said Melissa McKinnies, senior pastor at the church in Herrin.

For instance, the youth will hear that message and have an extended service outdoors and experience an "Easter rain, … a shower of candy," McKinnies said.

"And while the kids are enjoying the learning about Resurrection Sunday and developing that understanding, the parents are in the main sanctuary or in our overflow, learning about the same message," she said. "The same message is going from infants to adults and going in on levels that each grade group can understand.”

A lot of preparation goes into these efforts, McKinnies said, making sure the church puts forth its best foot. Members and guests can choose from one or all of three Sunday services: 9 a.m, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“Our message is we are just working really hard to create an environment where an un-churched person can come in and find a hope, find that relationship with Jesus Christ, find the missing piece of their life,” McKinnies said.

This Herrin church is not the only one preparing for one of the holiest, most-observed days on the Christian calendar, making its services welcoming, nonthreatening, affordable and, hopefully, informative.

Resurrection Sunday celebrates what Christians believe is the time that Jesus Christ, who had been killed on a cross three days earlier, rose from his grave in a tomb with a stone covering the entrance. Christians believe his death on the cross and resurrection provide a means by which they can experience an eternal life after their own death.

Church lawns are being cut and manicured, and like at First Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, sanctuaries are being adorned with lilies, a flower that symbolizes new life and refers to a name — "Lily of the Valley" from Song of Solomon 2:1 — of Jesus Christ. Faith leaders in Cairo came together on Good Friday to carry a cross through parts of the city to bring attention to the upcoming holy weekend and Resurrection Sunday and held an ecumenical worship service.

Other faith institutions, such as Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Carbondale, are de-emphasizing the expense typically associated with Easter clothes, by encouraging its membership, and guests, to wear T-shirts. The church made available T-shirts with a "Paid In Full" Resurrection message imprinted on it.

"No need to buy a suit or dress," reads a message on the church's website. "We’re wearing T-shirts and jeans."

Hopewell will have two Resurrection Sunday services, at 9 a.m. and at noon. In the two preceding years, the church attracted 526 and 611 people and hopes to attract 700 worshippers and guests this year, although the senior pastor noted the number was not the main attraction.

"Easter could be  considered the Super Bowl of the church," Senior Pastor Christopher Swims said.  "It's a time where we're able to minister the word of God and show the love of God to the masses. Our goal at Hopewell every Easter is to keep it simple. We encourage everyone to dress down instead and spending money on suits and dresses."

Today, the church is also offering free gas giveaways at three local gas stations and an Easter egg hunt for children.

Harrisburg's First Presbyterian Church's Resurrection weekend celebrations also included an observance of Maundy Thursday, with its Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service.

The service included a gradual darkening of the church and featured Holy Communion and seven readings from Scripture. Church leaders left the sanctuary in darkness, with the pulpit, baptismal font and communion table draped in black.

"Resurrection Sunday will be a celebratory worship service with the sanctuary decorated in white lilies, a symbol of new life," said Dan Whitfield, the church's interim pastor. "We have resisted trying to be trendy or caught up in the secular pop culture, but rather focusing on the profundity of the Easter event."

Catholics meeting at Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church and The Newman Catholic Student have spent the past 40 days of Lent celebrating the final days and eventual resurrection of Christ, with increased prayer and worship; fasting, sacrifice and doing positive actions; and finally, through almsgiving, charitable deeds, and service, according to Father Bob Flannery.

The church has also celebrated the Way of the Cross (which is sometimes referred to as the Stations of the Cross) several times a week for the six weeks of Lent, including a Living Stations of the Cross, which was acted out by college students at the Newman Center, Flannery said.

On Sunday, St. Francis Xavier will hold its 8 and 10 .;m. mass. After the 10 a.m. Mass and before the 12:15 p.m Spanish Mass, they will bless Easter baskets and hold an Easter Egg Hunt, with the Easter bunny making an appearance.

The View Church in Carbondale also hopes to be welcoming to its guests, while trying to not overwhelm them, lead pastor Jacob Swain said.

The celebrations continue on Sunday.

"At The View Church, we try to be ready for guests every week by having information they receive as they arrive about our vision as a church, what we believe and what opportunities we have for kids," Swain said. "We know it's awkward to come to a new church so we try to provide basic information about what to expect. We try to be friendly and engaging while still giving people space."

stephanie.esters@thesouthern.com

618-351-5805

On Twitter: @scribeest

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Reporter

Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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