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Religious leaders encouraging faith over fear leading up to Easter

Church services look different during the pandemic, but places of worship are adapting to make sure congregations can still find faith over fear.

TENNESSEE, USA — Most church services have moved online and Christian congregations are getting creative to commemorate Holy Week.

While services may look different during the pandemic, the message religious leaders in East Tennessee want to get across is for faith to be stronger than fear.

Pastor Jaime Goldenberg is the preacher at Transformation Church off of Cedar Bluff in Knoxville. He knows the temporary virtual adjustments are for the better.

"We don't have the cure, but we have the answer, and that's Jesus," Goldenberg said.

It's unusual, but during Palm Sunday, churches were nearly empty all across the United States.

Father Joe Reed, the pastor at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Farragut, said roles usually performed by multiple people in the church were handled by a handful of priests.

"The biggest adjustment really was that there were no people here other than the priests," Reed said.

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Sunday services at multiple churches are now exclusively online, including First Baptist Church in Sevierville, where Pastor Dan Spencer preaches.

"It really is different, but thank God for the technology we have to be able to meet anyway in a virtual way," Spencer admitted.

Pastors said what remains the same during this trying time is faith.

"So one of the little purposes or good things that can come out of the trying, trying, strange times, is the fact that we see that the Lord is with us through it all," Reed said.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and is the beginning of Holy Week in the Christian faith.

"It includes all of the major events that happened last week of Jesus's life, including Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, and then Easter Sunday is the end of the great celebration of Easter and his resurrection," Spencer explained.

Good Friday is just as important a day for Christians as Easter Sunday. Churches are getting creative to ensure people are able to observe them both similar to how they would in person.

"Churches are getting really creative and finding ways to not just put on a broadcast for people,  but to allow people in to participate and feel like they are one on one... feel like they are there," West Lonsdale Baptist Pastor Todd Halliburton said. "It's not the same, but in some ways, it's almost better, because you can't just rely on the person that's upfront speaking, you have to put yourself in and participate. And it makes it just that much more personal."

Churches, like St. John Neumann, are choosing to adapt by hosting daily virtual prayer moments and services, including an extended vigil over the weekend-- all hosted on Facebook and YouTube.

Others, like First Baptist in Sevierville, are encouraging symbolism through at-home communion, using anything people can find in their homes to repent.

Transformation Church is planning on handing out Easter boxes filled with toys and gifts for the holiday to remind their members they care.

"I think we're trying to get creative and outside of the box for the holiest moment in our faith, you know," Goldenberg mentioned.

The biggest message these pastors encourage during such an uncertain time? Making sure faith is stronger than fear.

"I know we're praying for a lot of the problems to go away," Goldenberg admitted. "But I think a lot of times God's wanting to do things inside of us in the midst of these problems."

"Unprecedented times call for unprecedented faith, and we're just encouraging people to step up, serve somebody in Jesus' name, love somebody, get to know somebody, even if it is just online or across the yard," Spencer said.

The goal is to continue encouraging the community and show how worship can be done at home.

"So while I would love for us to all be loving and adoring God in church right now, we need to do it at home, and God loves us and he sees that and He will bless us," Reed encouraged.

RELATED: Words of Faith and Hope from area religious leaders

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