What was once a small Easter gathering after a church park service now reaches more than 4,000 people and includes an egg hunt with more than 30,000 eggs.
New Beginnings Community Church and the city of Richmond Hill will host the Ninth Annual Easter Extravaganza starting at 11 a.m. Saturday at J.F. Gregory Park.
“This is truly about giving back to our community, no strings attached” said Steve Lane, senior pastor of New Beginnings Community Church.
For many years the church has planned, prepared, prayed and put countless volunteer hours into this one special day.
Fourteen years ago, Lane and his wife, Melodie, planted New Beginnings Community Church in Richmond Hill. For several years, they offered an egg hunt following the Easter service held under the pavilion at J.F. Gregory Park. The egg hunt was open mainly to church members.
But the Lanes wanted to reach more people in the community, so they began to think about how they could do it and offer it as a free event.
The result was the first Easter
Extravaganza. The Lanes were determined to give something and expect nothing in return.
“It was very important to us to make sure people didn’t feel baited. We wanted to provide a family event that was fun, safe and provide an opportunity for people to just enjoy,” Steve Lane said.
The two main reasons the church has hosted an Easter event of this magnitude, from the beginning, are “giving back to the community with no strings attached and to teach the people of our church how to serve,” Lane said.
The volunteers have nothing to gain except seeing others experience joy. Lane said the Easter Extravaganza has stayed true to its purpose over the years.
Church members didn’t know what to expect they put their plan in motion for the first time. Seven hundred people showed up that first year, followed by 1,200 and then 2,000. More than 4,000 attended last year.
All too often events claim to be free, then surprise you with a fee here or there for games, face painting or other activities. Lane said he wants people to know how hard the church strives keep the event free, in every sense of the word.
Attendees will see no costs — not even a tip jar on the tables. Guests will not be asked to buy anything. It is simply a day for the family to have fun and celebrate Easter worry-free.
New Beginnings members began preparing for this year’s extravaganza at the first of the year. Stuffing more than 30,000 eggs, after all, is no simple task.
Church members serve in various capacities: parking cars, entertaining, manning the information booth, leading groups to hunt eggs and serving food. In all, about 100 people step up to help.
Lane is often asked how his church can pull off an event of this size. The lion’s share of the credit goes to the church members, he said, who are ready to go “rain or shine.”
In addition, “the city of Richmond Hill, in particular Harvey Lashley, goes out of his way getting the park ready for this event,” Lane said. “Then all of our many sponsors come alongside us and make it all possible.”
If you plan to attend, you are advised to arrive early. Lane suggests coming by 10:30 a.m., preferably earlier, to park and head over to stage area. If you don’t arrive until 11, you might miss the egg hunt.
But in that event, don’t worry, he said. There will be a booth distributing eggs to those who miss out on the chance to take off with the other children.
Mayor Harold Fowler will open the event, followed by the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the giving of egg-hunting instructions by Melodie Lane. There will be five age groups of children, with each group assigned a different area of the park. Parents should stay with their children to ensure safety. In the event of rain, events are set to move under the pavilion.
Families can expect a fun, safe and memorable time, Steve Lane said. Besides the egg hunt, visitors can experience three bounce houses, various games and free pictures with the Easter Bunny. A dunk tank will be brought in from Fort Stewart. Each attendee can get a hot dog, beverage and chips, all at no charge. A highlight this year is the professional face painters from SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.
As a pastor, Steve Lane acknowledged that the spiritual emphasis on Easter is most important because it is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection, Lane said, people would have no hope of a living transformed and everlasting life.
While Easter serves as a reminder of this hope, Lane said, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the secular side of the holiday and having fun with family, so long as people understand the difference and do not neglect what is most important.