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Churches Resurrect an Old Easter Custom -- Holy Humor Sunday -- and Attract Large Crowds

Contact: Cal Samra, The Joyful Noiseletter, 269-324-0990, joyfulnz@aol.com

PORTAGE, Mich., Mar. 3 /Christian Newswire/ -- Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the early Greek Christians --- "Bright Sunday" or "Holy Humor Sunday" celebrations on the Sunday after Easter (April 19).

And the ongoing celebrations of Jesus' resurrection are bringing large crowds back to churches on a Sunday when church attendance typically drops dramatically.

Holy Humor Sunday celebrations have become a tradition in churches that congregations look forward to. For instance, Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, NC, held its 12th Annual Holy Humor Sunday service, led by fun-loving Pastor Bob Thompson. Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church held its 13th annual Holy Humor Sunday service.

For centuries in all Christian faith traditions, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' "Easter laugh."

Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, told jokes, sang, and danced. The custom slowly vanished in the last century as belief in the resurrection declined.

In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect Bright Sunday services with the theme: "Jesus is the LIFE of the party." This year the theme is "Humor and Hope for the Hard Times."

Many churches responded enthusiastically and named it Holy Humor Sunday. Churches decorated their sanctuaries with helium-filled balloons with joyful Scriptural messages, cardboard butterflies (a symbol of the resurrection), smiley faces, and posters emblazoned with messages like "Smile! God Loves You!" and "Christ is Risen! Smile!"

Congregations sang "Easter carols," based on the music of Christmas carols, with the lyrics composed by Lutheran Pastor Paul Lintern of Mansfield, OH. Choirs led congregations in a variety of old and new joyful hymns and songs.

Churches distributed to church members plastic Easter eggs, each with a clean joke or cartoon inside.

The First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven, FL, celebrated its 10th annual Bright Sunday with its traditional butterfly theme. The congregation moved into the memorial garden, and those who lost loved ones in the previous year were invited to release live butterflies in their memory while the choir led the singing of "I'll Fly Away."

Rev. C. Alan Harvey, as usual, played some practical jokes on the congregation and invited them to tell their own jokes. He got a pie in the face tossed by Pastor Steven D. Negley.

The 13th Annual Holy Humor Sunday at Mantua (NJ) United Methodist Church was based on Proverbs 17:22 -- "A cheerful heart is a good medicine."

Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft and his assistant, Rev. Gene Wilkins, came in doctor's garb with stethoscopes.

The choir dressed in lab coats and scrubs. The order of worship was reworded so that each part was interpreted in medical terms. The children's message was "the Pediatric Moment." The intercessory prayer was a "Consultation with the Head Physician." "Humor Breaks" were spread liberally through the service, allowing "patients" in the congregation to share a joke of their own.

"Pastors welcome the Holy Humor Sunday idea when they discover that it is solidly grounded theologically and historically," said Rev. Kraft.

The First Congregational Church of Royal Oak, MI, staged a fully costumed series of baseball sketches in a nine-inning baseball Holy Humor Sunday service. Pastor John Miller, dressed in a baseball uniform, pitched his sermon from the mound -- i.e., pulpit - while two relief preachers warmed up in a makeshift bullpen on the side. In the middle of his sermon, a young coach stopped the service, said loudly, "John, you don't have it today," and called for a relief preacher.

On Holy Humor Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, Rev. Dr. Jim Moiso's sermon was titled "Foolish Joy."

Noting that the secular world's view of the crucifixion and resurrection is "absolute foolishness," Dr. Moiso commented: "How wonderful to spend one's life in such foolishness . . . Here in this foolishness we connect with the Holy One. Here in this foolishness, we are bound together, brothers and sisters: crying, laughing, encouraging, praying, enjoying, and serving. I cannot imagine trading such foolishness for anything else."

On Holy Humor Sunday, many churches featured on their bulletin covers the Fellowship of Merry Christians' phenomenally popular print of "The Risen Christ by the Sea," a painting of a joyful, smiling, triumphant Risen Christ surprising His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.

Pastor Jim Arends of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent, MN, said, "This gives us a chance to celebrate the joy of Easter in a fun way a week after we've celebrated it in a glorious way . . . We don't celebrate this to increase attendance, but it has had that effect."

Even in churches which did not have a Holy Humor Sunday program, many pastors, including western and eastern Catholic priests, acknowledged the "Easter laugh" theme in their sermons on the Sunday after Easter.

In Afghanistan, Lieutenant Commander James M. T. Connolly, CHC, USNR, a Catholic chaplain, wrote that he uses the humor in The Joyful Noiseletter to lift the spirits of the U.S. Marines he serves. "Out on the front lines, humor is an awesome morale-builder," he wrote.

Another Catholic chaplain, Fr. James Sheil, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, which serves U.S. Army families at Fort Stewart, GA, presented 35 framed prints of "The Risen Christ by the Sea" to the children in Confirmation classes shortly before Easter. "It's an inspirational painting in these turbulent times," he said.

For more information on the ingenious ways that other churches have been celebrating Holy Humor Sunday, check out The Joyful Noiseletter's web site at www.joyfulnoiseletter.com, or write to: The Joyful Noiseletter, PO Box 895, Portage, MI 49081-0895. The Joyful Noiseletter, award-winning newsletter of the Fellowship of Merry Christians, is in its 24th year.

Contact: Cal Samra, The Joyful Noiseletter, 269-324-0990, joyfulnz@aol.com.