Church prepares for Easter TV special
Written by William C. Winslow
April 2000

 The ticket guarantees a seat at the Easter morning service. But closer scrutiny reveals some oddities. The date is Saturday, April 15. And the ticket holder is advised to eat breakfast, avoid wearing red, white or small- patterned clothing and stay in church for three hours.
      What kind of Easter service is this? The answer is, it isn't, at least not for the members of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland. It's a television production. The service must be recorded a week in advance because Pilgrim is ABC-TV's Easter offering. (Check local listings for time.)
      Pilgrim follows a long line of UCC congregations that have participated in an Easter or Christmas network broadcast over the years. Others include First Church of Christ UCC, Glaston-bury, Conn.; Plymouth Congregational UCC, Miami; Old South Church UCC in Boston; Central Union UCC and Kawaiaha'o UCC, Honolulu; First Plymouth Congregational UCC, Lincoln, Neb.; and First Church of Christ UCC, Wethersfield, Conn.
      Members of Pilgrim are learning what it means to be on TV. Red and white colors don't reproduce well on the tube, and small patterns shimmer. A good breakfast will help to endure three hours of sitting still.
      Since the church learned last November it had been tapped to represent mainline Protestantism—the service will be available in 90 percent of American homes—it has organized itself to a degree worthy of a presidential campaign. Consider the committees: tickets, hospitality, aesthetics, grooming/ushering, flowers, publicity, liaison to the TV crew, music, worship, cleanup, the physical plant, security and greeters. A parish nurse will stand by during the taping.
      The aesthetics crew will make sure the sanctuary looks good for TV—in the business, it's called "dressing the set." A large blank wall will be brought to life with a specially commissioned tapestry and 135 pots of flowers will fill in dead space and conceal electrical cables and outlets. The grooming committee will be concerned with the coiffures and makeup of those taking leadership roles in the service.
      Altogether, the committees will bring together some 200 members, who will contribute hundreds of hours of work, says coordinator Florence Coppola. "We've had a lot of fun," she says. "We've brought together new members who haven't yet met some of the old timers."
      On Easter Sunday, millions of television viewers will share in a moving religious experience as if they are part of the congregation at Pilgrim. What they won't know is how much effort it will have taken the congregation to establish that mood during videotaping.
      So why go through the hassle? "This is evangelism," says the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, senior pastor. "If we can touch a few hearts that are empty or lost or alienated, then perhaps some lives will be enriched or renewed by the good news of our Christian faith."