SHEPHERDSTOWN – The Rev. Fred Soltow understands the attention afforded Christmas, but says he sees Easter as the most important day on the Christian calendar.
“If there were no Easter, it’s likely there wouldn’t be the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas,” said Soltow, who heads congregations in Uvilla and Shepherdstown.
He welcomes putting an ever-greater focus on how Jesus sacrificed his life for mankind’s sins and then rose again on Easter morning, Soltow explains.
“My message this year is about living as Easter people,” Soltow said.
The Easter celebration has changed in recent decades, notes Soltow and other Panhandle ministers.
For many years, the holiday unfailingly brought a new suit for church-going men and boys while ladies and girls came to Easter services decked out in new dresses, often complete with Easter bonnets and a lily or orchid corsage.
Now many churches have become more casual, and many worshippers will feel as comfortable as ever in jeans and T-shirts come Easter Sunday
“About the only traditional part of our church at Easter is the egg hunt we have for the kids,” said Don Cherry, the minister of New Hope Church, which meets in the Inwood Performing Arts dance studio.
And even that tradition takes a bit of a twist, said Cherry, a 63-year-old Ohio native. “We fill the plastic eggs with candy and also with verses of Scripture,” he said.
By not meeting inside a traditional church building, the congregation is free to worship in new ways, Cherry said.
“I would never slam the traditional church, but we aren’t ever held back by that mindset, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’”
This year’s Easter service at New Hope, for instance, will include not the traditional Communion but a seder, the Jewish observance of Passover.
“We thought, why not observe the Lord’s Supper in the Jewish tradition, the way Jesus would have celebrated that night at the Last Supper?” Cherry said. “It’s a way to tie in the Old Testament with the New Testament.”
Cherry believes offering the seder-style Lord’s Supper will help those at the Easter service understand the Easter holiday more deeply.
“I don’t think it’s enough for us as Christians to just do something – we need to understand why we do it. We need to be able to explain why we do it.”
At St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at 110 King St. in Shepherdstown, Soltow also is planning a seder dinner. The church will offer it as part of its Maundy Thursday commemoration, which begins with the meal at 5 p.m. in the fellowship hall and then a service beginning at 7 p.m.
“We think it’s going to be a powerful experience,” said Soltow, who grew up in New York and has been a minister since 1975. “This will give us a chance to see the Last Supper and experience what Christ experienced when he celebrated Passover with the disciples.”
On Good Friday, the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association will hold a community-wide service starting at noon at Trinity Episcopal Church on West German Street.
The service will include messages from ministers of various faiths. When it concludes at 3 p.m., many will join worshippers from St. Agnes Catholic Church in walking the Stations of the Cross through Shepherdstown.
But the highlight of the Easter season for Soltow will be Sunday’s sunrise service, held in Uvilla in the cemetery of St. James Lutheran Church.
“To be there, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection amid the tombs at sunrise – there’s something very special about those moments,” Soltow said. “You can’t help but focus on how Easter represents new life.”