With many people undergoing hardships across the world right now, last weekend’s Easter holiday might have seemed somewhat out of place. A day that typically indicates an end to uncertainty and a shift toward new hope was met with persisting challenges. For Kirksville’s First Presbyterian Church, however, this past Sunday provided a chance to see light in the unexpected.
Reverend Anders Edstrom explained that while the past month has resulted in alterations to his congregation, some changes are proving to be for the better. The church has witnessed enhanced engagement at weekly services, meetings and various forms of religious expression via Zoom and Facebook Live.
“I think this is presenting sort of an unmatched opportunity — one that we might not have had the opportunity to explore — like different aspects of worship, had this not happened,” Edstrom said.
One part of this new streaming that Edstrom particularly enjoys is the ability to build broader connections through a variety of means. Though musical expression is often abundant in a chapel setting, the incorporation of other art forms into video services has added a valuable new dynamic, Edstrom said. Some examples include drawings of palm crosses in the background of screens on Palm Sunday and poetry reading on Good Friday.
The staff has also found several other creative ways to accommodate members from home. First Presbyterian’s Christian Education Director is conducting after school prayer for children through online video discussion. Church musicians distribute links for others to access their recordings, and the secretary maintains administrative support with mail and office assistance.
Edstrom said he appreciates this collective effort and points to it as evidence of sustained unity, reflecting that members have been showing up in meaningful ways during this time of quarantine.
“I feel like people have been just as engaged, if not more so, than they would be in person,” Edstrom said. “I don’t wanna say they surprised me because I knew that it mattered to them, but just sort of the outpouring of engagement and wanting to be part of the church even now I think has been a really great revelation.”
That level of participation extends to congregation members, as well. With many church activities requiring tangible materials, people must make do with what they have at home.
Communion, for instance, typically involves bread or wafers with wine or juice. While those resources aren’t always readily available, Edstrom finds the sharing of replacements to be a fun way of keeping the church connected.
“I always ask them to comment on the video what they’re using, and I’ve gotten some pretty interesting things,” Edstrom said. “I think I’ve gotten Dr. Pepper instead of juice, or Monster energy drink. I’ve seen Girl Scout cookies substituting for the bread … Yeah, it’s been interesting.”
These gradual adjustments made for a relatively smooth transition to remote celebration of Easter, Edstrom said. Still, he said the service that usually attracts large gatherings full of optimism and life felt a little less bright this year.
Edstrom was careful to deliver a message that addressed current events without forgetting the significance of the occasion.
“When I preach, sometimes there’s a ‘What’s going on in the world?’ and I don’t really know how to connect it because there’s not much happening,” Edstrom said. “But then there’s times like this where it’s pretty obvious what you should be speaking about. The thing that we have to remember is that Easter arose in the darkness. In the Bible stories, the women would show up at the tomb the first day of the week as the light is dawning, or in the Gospel of John they show up while it’s still dark. So Easter, hope, light, all of those good things arise in the darkness.”
These accounts from the scripture are anticipated every Easter, but Edstrom knew they served a special purpose this time. Amid widespread sacrifice and struggle, he understood the necessity of lifting spirits.
Edstrom tried his best to draw parallels between the elements present in this biblical narrative and the present shadows of emptiness that endure. More importantly, however, he focused on the joy that can follow.
“There are a lot of stories right now that are difficult, but the light of the first day of the week is still dawning in the world, even if it seems really dark right now,” Edstrom said. “There’s always hope.”