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For Christians, Christmas is a big holiday, but their faith centers on Easter, when in the spring they celebrate their belief in Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday after Jesus’ Friday execution.
Having a big Easter church service is one thing; CedarCreek Church’s “big” seems exponential. Tom Martin, pastor of its Perrysburg campus at 29129 Lime City Rd., calls Easter CedarCreek’s Super Bowl. “Our prayer is that we’ll be somewhere between 18,000 to 20,000 people” in attendance for a total of eight services held simultaneously on all four of its campuses, he said.
CedarCreek has three services scheduled today, at 3:30, 5:15, and 7 p.m., and three more on Easter itself, Sunday at 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. Two services were held Friday.
All eight services have the same content, with short films produced by CedarCreek that are kind of a modern retelling of the Passion of the Christ, along with material from the Hollywood movie by that name starring Mel Gibson, Pastor Martin said. “We hired actors and actresses; we filmed it right here in Toledo, downtown.” The services are held in Perrysburg, in Toledo at 2150 S. Byrne Rd. and 2600 W. Sylvania Ave., and at 6950 Whitehouse Square Rd. in Whitehouse.
After the films Ben Snyder, a teaching pastor who is the regional campus director, gives the same message for all eight services, from Perrysburg, that is streamed live online at cedarcreek.tv and to all of CedarCreek’s campuses. “I try to become so familiar with the content that it’s hopefully like we’re having a conversation, and it just flows,” Pastor Snyder said about his preaching. Each location has a separate band and its own campus pastor.
“It isn’t about just the message,” Pastor Martin said. Referring to the work of Jason Tucker, the leader of production and arts who is also a teaching pastor, he said, “It’s all these video elements, the music that goes with it. [Pastor Tucker] works with the team that does the lighting and effects and all of that stuff. He creates the atmosphere that really sets the stage for the message.” The 2,300 volunteers also contribute to the experience, he said.
CedarCreek’s Easter services started Friday, a solemn day that in many Christian traditions focuses only on Jesus’ dying. Pastor Martin said he received a complaint about celebrating Easter on Good Friday. “Everybody comes from a different place in religion,” he said. “We’re celebrating the whole story the whole weekend. … Our service is all about Christ dying on the cross and the resurrection, what that means and what does it mean in each of us, and so that’s really the message that we want to convey.”
There could be people attending a CedarCreek service who won’t be served by the Jesus message, Pastor Snyder acknowledged, but others will be drawn to it. “We know there are skeptics who will come,” Pastor Snyder said. “We want to invite them to come and check out the church for more than just a weekend.”
How Lee Powell, CedarCreek’s senior pastor, who is undergoing treatment for Parkinson’s disease, will participate in the services had not been decided early in the week, Pastor Martin said. “This is the first Easter we’ve ever had that Lee hasn’t given the talk, that he hasn’t done the gospel message.”
“The truth is, we’re just waiting for Lee to get better,” Pastor Snyder said. “We’re excited about that and we’re supporting him every step of the way. We love having him as our leader.”
CedarCreek will open its fifth location in September in Findlay. “That’s the first time we’ve been more than 15, 20 minutes away from our original campus,” Pastor Snyder said, “so that will be an exciting new adventure for all of us. That’ll stretch us, but also put us in a completely different city than we’re at today. ... We have a lot of people already there who attend; they make the 40, 45-minute drive up” to CedarCreek.
“The other thing that CedarCreek is really on board with is that we are big now in the church planting movement,” Pastor Martin said. That includes CoastCity Church in Melbourne, Fla., started by former CedarCreek pastor Mark Bernard with former CedarCreek music department leader Jason Smithers, holding its first service Sunday at 10 a.m.
As for changing Toledo, Pastor Martin said, “It’s not going to be because a new mayor comes in or something. It’s going to be all the organizations, just like the Compassionate City [movement], it’s going to be organizations that can say we don’t have to agree on everything but we can work toward stuff together, and being able to put all that aside and do what Christ did, walk like he did. I think we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving somebody else.” Today and Sunday, theyll serve thousands at the CedarCreek campuses.