Easter comes anew

Jennifer Stultz
Rev. Mike Neifert of the Pratt Friends Church broadcasts an Easter sunrise sermon on Sunday to his congregation in cars. The sermon was on the peninsula at the Pratt County Veteran's Memorial Lake. Congregation members stayed in cars because of the COVID-19 crisis.

This year in Pratt, and around the world, church celebrations for the religious Easter holiday hit a barrier no one expected. COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings limited groups to no more than 10 to meet for any purpose to help slow the spread of the disease. Area church leaders and board members scrambled to find a way to provide worship experiences together with their congregations and at the same time keep a safe distance as per state regulations.

Area church leaders and board members scrambled to find a way to still worship together with their congregations and at the same time keep a safe distance for health sake.

Rev. Mike Neifert of the Pratt Friends Church held an Easter sunrise service on the peninsula at the Pratt County Veteran's Memorial Lake. Rev. Steve Taylor of the First Southern Baptist Church held a similar service in the FSBC parking lot. The Ascension Lutheran Church of Pratt met in a pasture north of town. Other churches in and around Pratt canceled in-house church services and many opted for online Easter celebrations via Facebook live, Zoom channels or YouTube recordings.

At Abundant Harvest Church of the Nazarene, Pastor Scott Powell and the worship praise team offered a live Facebook recording of their outdoor service which had been planned as a drive-in service.

“While we believed we could do these events safely, we also believed we should lead the community in safety and encourage our church family to stay home outside of very necessary travel. We had other options we utilized for Easter this year,” Powell said.

In the case of outdoor services that met, congregates arrived at service sites and stayed in their own cars, as per safety stipulations. For those at the Pratt County lake, the sermon was broadcasted over FM 90.5 radio, Neifert said.

"Jesus was raised from the dead early in the morning," Neifert said. "We decided to go out early in the morning and remember what he has done for us."

The low power FM transmitter used by Neifert and Taylor had a very short range to broadcast the hymns and sermon, Neifert said.

The Friends Church service started at 6:45 a.m. and featured songs and a sermon. The FSBC service started at 7 a.m. and also featured a sermon and hymns.

Neifert said his congregation members were able to use the Friends Church Facebook page to get the words for the songs that included "Because He Lives," "Raise a Hallelujah" "What a Beautiful Name" "Amazing Grace My Chains are Gone."

The weather forecast for Easter morning included the possibility of rain and cold wind but both held off for a cloudy but pleasant morning at the lake. Vehicles formed a line in front of Neifert who preached a 45-minute sermon about Christ dying and rising from the dead to save mankind from sins.

Neifert said the church board came up with the idea to hold the services in this manner. The church has used the island in the past. He said he did check with the Pratt County Sheriff's Office to make sure they followed the necessary guidelines. The service was deemed permissible if there was no contact between cars and their occupants.

Neifert said he had used an FM transmitter before and that type of broadcasting worked because that particular frequency, 90.5 was not being used by a station. Both churches used the same frequency because the broadcast range is very short and they didn't interfere with each other.

Neifert said a member of his congregation already had most of the equipment and loaned its use to the church.

On the northeast side of Pratt, Rev. Taylor broadcast his sermon from a flat bed trailer while the congregation took advantage of the mild weather and sat in separated family groups on the church parking lot.

Taylor’s sermon focus was on the last shofar that will sound when Christ returns to earth. A shofar is a musical instrument made of a ram’s horn and its use was mentioned several times in the Bible including at the battle of Jericho. Taylor said the ram’s horn was not meant to be a pleasant sounding instrument and was used as a way to communicate and in battle to scare the enemy.

Taylor said when the last shofar sounds, it will signal victory for Jesus.

The FSBC’s service started at 7 a.m. and was followed by a regular service at 10:30 a.m. where the congregation stayed in cars.

While the weather cooperated, Taylor said he had alternative plans if the weather was too bad.

"We knew were were going to have to be flexible," Taylor said.

* Gannett reporter Gale Rose contributed to this article.