Last spring, Hoboken Grace was a new church for me, and I was exploring some of its activities. The week before Easter, the church was throwing a free Easter Egg Hunt at a huge, fenced-in sports field on Jackson Street. I was planning to stop by for just a half-hour to get a feel for the event.
An organizer stopped me at the gate. “Do you have a reservation?” she asked. “No” I explained, “I’m just here to watch.” “That’s great,” she said with a welcoming smile, “but we are sold out. Do you want to volunteer?” Clearly this was the only way I would get inside. “Okay,” I sighed. “What do you want me to do?” She looked deep into my eyes, which kind of un-nerved me, and said, “Face-painting.” That was a good assignment since I’d done some theater makeup in the past. How did she know?
Settling awkwardly at the table, I got my instructions, paint and sample pages of small images we could paint on the kids. I was expecting to paint masks, but soon saw that the steady stream of clients didn’t give us enough time to apply anything but the butterfly or smiley face of the kids’ choosing. The paintbrush moved awkwardly in my hand, and I was embarrassed at my loss of skills. My first dozen attempts looked sloppy, but the kids didn’t seem to mind.
Meanwhile, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams played through speakers. Why wasn’t I hearing church music — Godspell maybe, or some contemporary Christian singers? I could suggest a few for an outreach program like this. And some of the kids wore bunny ears made from paper plates, a craft at one of the other stations. I hadn’t expected Easter bunny crafts at a church event — maybe crayoned stain-glass windows would be more appropriate, I thought. But I looked around and noticed no one was asking my advice.
The pastor got on the loudspeaker microphone and announced it was time for the hunt. Huge amounts of straw had been spread out to cover thousands of plastic colored eggs, and everyone was called to come hunt, supervise or cheer the kids on. There were clear instructions to make sure the kids rejoined their folks afterwards, and a circle of volunteers kept the egg hunters contained on the field. By the time I had heard of two kids not immediately matched up with their parents, the little ones were already in the arms of church staff members. No screaming parents, no crying kids — how did the staff do that?
The area emptied out, and everything was reset for a second round of partying. Roaming around the field, I saw bouncy houses, craft tables, carnival games and sites for photo shoots with life-size bunnies. I helped search through the trampled straw for egg halves and cracked remnants of the first hunt. Finally drawn by the scent of hot pizza, I wandered into the volunteers’ tent. There were tasty snacks — drinks, peanut butter crackers, candy bars — and good conversation. As an impromptu participant, I felt very well taken care of.
Before the second round of guests arrived, the pastor gathered everyone for a pep talk. “It’s not about the egg hunt or the games,” he said. “People will remember how you make them feel. Be kind above all else.” I decided to stay for the second session.
Back to the face painting: This time some adults wanted colored butterflies on their cheeks too, and pretty soon I was chatting with each painted face, talking with extended family groups and starting to have a good time. My painting technique was getting better as I remembered to put the right amount of pressure on the side of the brush, and pull, to form the curved edge of the butterfly wing in one stroke. It looked better, but was still not my best work. Somehow that didn’t seem as important as it did at the beginning. And no one else complained.
As I walked out of the field at the end of the event, adults were handing out white business cards, with a vivid, multi-colored egg graphic on one side. The other side sported a simple invitation to Good Friday and Easter Sunday services — dates, times and address. “Hope you had fun,” was all that was said. Where was the powerful call to action, “He is Risen” — the proclamation of faith? I’d never seen a church behave like this around Christianity’s most important holiday. Who were these people?
But I felt different than when I’d first arrived almost four hours before — more interested, relaxed, some of my curiosity satisfied. And I’d contributed something to a wholesome afternoon for fun-loving neighbors I didn’t know — not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Maybe the local families with egg-gathering kids weren’t the only people this party was designed to impact. I now understand that, rather than a sales pitch, the Easter Egg Hunt is more about offering a free event that serves the city and demonstrates God’s love to the community.
The business card turned in my hand once more. It seemed simple, but was so beautiful and skillfully designed. “Experience Easter at Hoboken Grace,” it said. Smiling quietly, I realized where I’d be spending Easter morning.
Barbara is a member of the Writing Team.
Don’t miss this opportunity to be a part of making the Easter Egg Hunt happen. To volunteer on Saturday, April 8th, click here.