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Churches aim for less frill, more thrill this Easter
Mark Dowdy, music director at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, performs at the Good Friday service. The church will have multiple services on Easter, including a sunrise service.

Hometown religion: List of local religious services includes Easter services and egg hunts.

Galilee Christian Church stadium service
When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday
Where: Jefferson High School Stadium
Directions: From Gainesville, drive south on U.S. 129 for 21 miles and turn left on Old Swimming Pool Road. Jefferson Memorial Stadium is on the right. Parking is available along Old Swimming Pool Road and in front of the stadium.

If white shoes, frilly dresses and suits aren't exactly your style on Easter, you're in luck this year.

For something a little more casual and less traditional, there are a few services that might be more your worship style on Sunday.

At Galilee Christian Church in Jefferson, the Rev. Tom Plank and his congregation have planned a service at the Jefferson High School football stadium.

Plank said the idea of a stadium service started out as a whim.

"We have a meeting every January to lay out our year in advance and at that meeting I said, ‘You know, I've been thinking it might be kind of nice to have Easter at the stadium next year.' And I thought they would say, ‘Yeah.' Well, was I surprised," said Plank, who has been at Galilee for 47 years. "We have 20 men on the board and all of them said, ‘We think that is a great idea.'"

So right then the plans began. It's now turned into one of the biggest events the church has put together.

"We plan on giving a stadium cushion to the first 1,000 people who come; beyond that I have no idea if we will have 1,000 or 2,000," Plank said. "There are dozens of committees that range from building the platform that is going to be there to handing out materials to welcoming people to showing them where to park."

To prepare for the stadium service, members at Galilee have put up yard signs, passed out 3,500 calling cards, written personal invitations and biggest of all - committed to 30 days of prayer prior to the service.

Now, if you are in the mood for an early morning celebration, just head over to a sunrise service like the one at The Highlands United Methodist Church in Gainesville.

The service starts at 6:45 a.m. just as the sun is coming up, said the Rev. Jeff Coleman.

"We start when it's not going to be too terribly dark, but it'll be dark enough," Coleman said. "The sun will still be coming up and greet the new day in a traditional way.

"Bring a chair, bring a blanket; you don't want to stand the whole time. It's sort of a very informal service."

Sunrise services on Easter offer something a little different than the traditional service, Coleman said.

"No. 1 thing that I think is really cool about it is the fact that it's outside, and most church worship services are always indoors," he said. "I think there is something about being in the out of doors that draws you closer. ... We see the sun coming up over the horizon and it carries us to the idea that Easter is all about new life and a new opportunity.

"It is the pivotal point in human history; it's all about newness of life."

But if 6:45 a.m. is too late for you, head over to Lake Lanier Islands.

There, an even earlier service is planned, according to Kelly Wilson, the sales and catering manager.

"It's going to be at Presentation Point (amphitheater) and it's at 5 a.m.," said Wilson, who said they have a large service for Easter each year at the resort.

For families who spend Easter morning doing activities at home, some churches have later services, too. The Highlands will have services at 9:15 and 11:15 a.m., for example, and Free Chapel has a 1:30 p.m. service on Easter.

The service is the finale of a series called Promise, a musical production at the church, according to the church's Web site. It features the Rev. Jentzen Franklin with a cast, a full orchestra and special effects to conclude the story of Easter.

Easter services there also will be at 9 and 11 a.m.

Putting together a nontraditional service is all about reaching into the community, Plank said.

"I think one of the most difficult things is for a person who has never been in a church building before to walk through the front doors of a church building," Plank said. "You just feel like everyone is looking at you. By moving this to the stadium, it is our effort to reach out to the community to just engulf everybody."

For the service - which is casual dress - the church will welcome several special presenters. Staying true to the football theme, Chris Davis, who is a member of Galilee and plays football at the University of Georgia, will give his testimony message. Plank's sermon is called "He's My King."

And while it's hard to top the Easter event at the stadium, Plank said there will be a follow-up Wednesday service at the church as well.

"On Wednesday night following Easter at the stadium we are inviting anyone who wants to come that day to a free meal at the church," he said. "It will be catered by the Master's Table. And we'll have special programming for children and teenagers, and there will be a special worship service in our worship center.

"We're doing that to kind of help people that have come for the first time ... to encourage them to come down and see what we are all about."

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