Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Lawrence churches celebrate Easter with full congregations

April 13, 2004

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The pews in many Lawrence churches were full to bursting Easter Sunday.

Whether that was due, at least in part, to the influence of Mel Gibson's blockbuster religious film "The Passion of the Christ" was difficult to determine, several pastors said.

But some of them said the film had an effect among Christians, perhaps leading more of them to celebrate Easter in church this year.

The 11 a.m. Sunday service at Heartland Community Church, 619 Vt., drew about 250 worshippers.

"It's the largest service we've ever had," said the Rev. Paul Gray, Heartland's senior pastor. "I think the Mel Gibson movie had something to do with it. And we've had increasing attendance for the last couple of months, which corresponds with the sermon series we did about the movie."

The Rev. Leo Barbee was thrilled with the sight of a full sanctuary Sunday.

"We had awesome attendance, we really did," said Barbee, senior pastor of Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass. "I'm sure we had close to 200 or 250, and we usually run about 150 to 175. When I got up to sing and looked around, it was full."

Some of it was simply because it was Easter, he said.

"When you have an Easter program with children, it brings out a lot of people," he said.

Attendance was strong at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt., too.

"The total number at all (four of) the Sunday services was about 1,100," said the Rev. David Livingston. "At the last two services, there weren't many places to sit, so it seemed pretty full."

He wasn't sure if Gibson's movie helped fill the pews.

"On the whole, it's hard to say. Whenever something hits the popular media, it's bound to stir some people to want to hear more," he said. "In fact, when people tell me that they've seen 'The Passion,' one of the things I often say is, 'If you liked the movie, you should read the book. It's much better.'"

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