Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gene makes the Sentinel again......

Pastor Gene Pensiero stands at the pulpit at Calvary Chapel Church on Thursday afternoon. (Gary Feinstein/The Sentinel)

Visitors welcome “ any time"
by Seth Nidever

For most of the year they never darken a church door. They are the once- or twice-a-year visitors, and they are coming Sunday to a crowded church near you to be part of a ceremony commemorating the centerpiece of the Christian faith. It's hard to pinpoint why they come, but come they do, jamming pews and creating more parking hassles.

Local Christians interviewed for this story said that instead of being irritated by the onslaught, they welcome it.

"No, I'm very happy to see them there, and I'm hoping it will rub off on them," said Betty Kolander, a daily visitor to Masses at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Hanford.

"I think deep within them they realize the significance of (Christmas and Easter) and want to make some connection," said Martha Bentley, a regular since the seventh grade at First Presbyterian Church Hanford. Bentley will be pulling all-day duty Sunday -- a sunrise service, a church breakfast and two services where she'll be belting out worship songs in the choir. Bentley called it "a day that I reflect on the sacrifice Christ made for us."

"As a mother who lost a son, I have a deeper appreciation of God's sacrifice," she said, reflecting on the death of her 20-year-old son, Don, in a traffic accident.

Kathy Wee, another St. Brigid regular, said she's heard of people being irritated by the big crowds, but added that she doesn't feel that way. Wee described the meaning of Easter as "God's resurrection. He gives us life. And that's what people need: life. We need peace, hope. We need to know that there's more."

Not surprisingly, none of the once-a-year attendees could be located for this story to ask why they show up.

Gene Pensiero, pastor of Calvary Chapel Hanford, thinks most of the Easter crowd at his church has to do with family connections. Family members who are active churchgoers will invite their backsliding relatives, perhaps. "The majority would say ... we came because so and so invited us," he said. "They still have a faint recollection of church," he added.

For most Christians, regular attendance at church is seen as an important part of the faith. Bonding with other believers would seem to be a natural and inevitable outcome of sharing a specific set of beliefs.

Pensiero sees the Easter service as an opportunity to woo the wayward back into church life.
"You want it to have a more evangelical feel to it," he said.

Pensiero calls the day "a very unique celebration" because it commemorates an event that Christians claim actually happened approximately 2,000 years ago: The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ after he was crucified and buried.

Anthony Silveira, a deacon at St. Brigid, said that Catholic families just have a natural tendency to join each other at Easter services. "Easter is the big holiday. It is the gift of Christ's life," he said. He called the packed services "a gift for the church. The whole community comes together to worship."

"It's always nice to see new faces. That is what it's about," Wee said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432

(March 22, 2008)

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