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SIOUX CITY | On one of Christianity's highest holy days, two of Sioux City's biggest churches plan to welcome throngs of worshipers -- but not in their usual sacred spaces.

Sunnybrook Community Church and Morningside Lutheran Church will conduct Easter services at the Sioux City Convention Center and the Orpheum Theatre, respectively.

Both churches aim to deliver a more modern, culturally relevant experience to go along with a timeless biblical message about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That means in addition to sharing Scripture, services will include videos, special lighting and upbeat music.

Along with Christmas, Easter is a time for twice-a-year churchgoers, and pastors of both churches say they want to encourage people to attend. Dressed in their Sunday best or weathered jeans, all will find the doors open.

"A lot of people around Easter time are looking for a place to worship," the Rev. Darrin Vick, senior pastor at Morningside Lutheran, said.

A NEW PERSPECTIVE

At Sunnybrook, Spiritual Formation Pastor Laurie Van Cura said the goal is to make those who may have been turned off by earlier church experiences feel at home.

"By taking our large services into the community, we feel like we break down those barriers for people," Van Cura said. "Our objective is that people feel something positive, something like grace and love rather than the condemnation that a lot of times they find in church."

Sunnybrook in November opened an expansion that doubled the growing nondenominational congregation's space. The added space was needed for worship services and other programs.

Now, 1,300 instead of 700 people can attend a Sunnybrook service on Sundays. But on Easter, Van Cura said 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at the convention center could draw a combined 5,000.

It's the third time in four years Sunnybrook has held Easter services at the convention center. The other year, services were at the Orpheum.

Van Cura acknowledged some people aren't comfortable attending such a large event and prefer more traditional services in mainline churches, but Ken Brandvold, of Sioux City, said he's enjoyed going to the convention center for Easter. 

"It is always a nice service, with more space," Brandvold said. "It gives the congregation a chance to invite friends and family that don't normally go to church."

Morningside Lutheran's Vick said the Orpheum offers a vibrant, aesthetically pleasing atmosphere that helps those who've had bad church experiences gain a new perspective.

"It is without a doubt the best. It is built for sight and sound," Vick said.

Morningside Lutheran has held Easter services in the Orpheum for six years. Last year, attendance was 1,600 in the venue that can accommodate 2,500.

"We get really positive feedback from members and nonmembers alike. People just love it. It is a worship service that has become a community event, and we are real proud of that," Vick said.

The Orpheum service will be at 10:30 a.m. Two earlier services, which are expected to draw about 500 people apiece, will be at 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Sunday at the church, at 700 S. Martha St.

PREPARATIONS

As with any large event, getting ready takes planning, effort and time. Sunnybrook members spent three days setting up the convention center.  Extra touches included 2,000 sheets of paper colored by children on display in the hallway, and a bluegrass band that will perform in the lobby between services. Artist William Butler will create a painting during the service, melding various elements of the Easter story into a unique creation.

It all fits together, Van Cura said.

"Everything we do in the service points to the message," she said.

The key is to let people know they can find eternal life through Christ, she said.

"He rose from death to conquer any power that Satan had over him. Christ has conquered death so that we can live. He offers life to every single person," Van Cura said.

The Morningside Lutheran setup at the Orpheum started Friday, and music practices took place Saturday. Vick said the theater's expansive size accommodates 70 people playing musical instruments and singing in a choir. Such a collection of guitars, pianos, brass instruments and vocalists couldn't fit in the church.

"We have the space to do the best with all our music," Vick said.

For the first time, this year's service will include communion, a sacrament Morningside Lutheran celebrates the first Sunday of each month.

"Doing communion for up to 2,000 people will be kind of cool," Vick said.

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County and education reporter

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