Easter worshippers at Clovis Hills Community Church received a bonus Sunday when a helicopter dropped more than 7,000 candy-filled plastic eggs to kids waiting with baskets.
"It's fantastic," said Michelle Wood, a Clovis Hills member who was with son Ian, 51/2 and daughter Brooke, 3. "It's an opportunity for the community to step foot on our church grounds and know this is a place everyone is welcome. It's a place where you can enjoy life."
Thousands of people visited central San Joaquin Valley churches on Easter when congregations have their highest attendance of the year. Many churches presented traditional Easter messages on the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb and the hope that it gives to people.
But some Valley churches also provided fun activities for children. In addition to services, Northside Christian Church in Clovis, Holy Family Episcopal Church in northeast Fresno and First Christian Church of Visalia also held Easter egg hunts for the kids.
At Clovis Hills Community Church, the helicopter idea bloomed when Michael Shandley said he wanted to get more involved as a church member. He is helicopter pilot with Rogers Helicopters in Fresno, one of the largest helicopter operators in California.
Church officials' faces lit up.
"We just got this crazy idea to drop eggs to kids," said Dave Cameron, director of ministry support services at Clovis Hills.
Excitement built during the 9 a.m. service when Clovis Hills Pastor Shawn Beaty talked about the helicopter egg drop. The sanctuary overflowed with about 1,300 people.
"I know some of you are morbidly curious to see how we're going to drop that many eggs. I am, too."
Officials timed the drop in between the church's two services. About 1,600 people waited on the fringe of a large, dirt area. The helicopter would make two passes. The first was for kids up to age 6, then one for 7 and over.
When eggs fell from the sky from about 100 feet, parents clicked photos with their smartphones.
The helicopter stirred up dust that caused everyone to turn their heads and cover their eyes. But nobody seemed to mind.
Parents smiled as they scurried with their kids to collect eggs. The eggs had been taped to avoid cracking open.
"It's great," said Brynna Johnson, who was with son Gavin, 3, who toted a Spiderman basket to carry his eggs. "It's fun for the kids. It gets them interested in wanting to come to church."
Tammy Long came with sons Josh Iler, 14, and Augie Contreras, 6. She also brought a camera with a long lens to capture everything.
"It's awesome," she said. "This brings people together, allows them to interact and to be happy. That's what Jesus is all about, bringing people together. What better way than to do this."
Beaty, in his first Easter as Clovis Hills' new senior pastor, said it is important that Easter worshippers receive the message about Jesus' resurrection as well as have fun with their families at church.
"We're very serious about the Gospel message here, but one of our values is fun," he said. "When you have fun, it breaks barriers down, so you can hear the Gospel."
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