If you're not sure how to best decorate your church for Easter next Sunday, one piece of advice you might want to take is this: Use a lot of lilies, and little else.
"Our general policy for all of our decorations is to keep it simple," said Rev. Dominick P. Isopo, church pastor at St. Luke's Catholic Church on upper State Street and St. Joseph's in downtown Schenectady. "Keep it simple, meaningful and symbolic. We have a long history of using lilies as part of our Easter celebration, and we might throw in a few mums and Azaleas. And St. Luke's is rather ornate to begin with. It doesn't need a lot of further decoration."
To most Christians, Easter lilies represent the resurrection of Christ. White lilies in particular have also long been a symbol of purity, hope, innocence and peace, and the Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor at both St. John the Evangelist and St. Anthony's in Schenectady, expects to see them at his two Catholic parishes. He doesn't, however, expect to see much else changed, and part of the reason is because of the example being set by the Holy See at the Vatican.
"Pope Francis has always tried to keep things simple," said Carlino. "If you notice when he's on TV, he's always dressing simply. He wants us to be less ornate and more mindful of the poor. So we've used his example and have been toning things down the last couple of years. I don't expect to see anything different other than maybe a few more lilies than usual."
At the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Glenville, the Rev. Jerome Gringas also keeps things simple. His main sanctuary, built in 1970, has been a bit barren since the beginning of Lent but there's a good reason for that.
"The church has always seen Lent as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving," said Gringas. "It is also the season of simplicity with its focus on the penitential color of purple."
Lent, a solemn religious observance on the Christian liturgical calendar, begins on Ash Wednesday and ends six weeks later, three days before Easter. Its purpose is to prepare people for Easter through the practices of prayer, doing penance and self-denial, to name just a few.
At Immaculate Conception, the altar is decorated only with a few purple robes on the floor along with some potted plants in sand. Placed on the floor along with those items are some dead branches.
"For Lent this year, we used branches cut from the trees on our property," explained Gingras. "The branches are lifeless and depict death. The long branches are laid over various shades of purple fabric, the Lenten color of penance. The purple vases filled with sand depict lifelessness as in the desert at different times of the year."
This week, says Gingras, things will begin to take on a different, more lively look.
"After five weeks of since Ash Wednesday, leaves of green plants can be seen growing from the sand," said Gringas. "What was lifeless is now bearing fruit. So it is with Jesus. Hanging lifeless from a cross, he rises from the dead and death has no more power over him."
Will there be a few lilies to see at IC-Glenville?
"We invite one and all to come and see for themselves," said Gringas. "Something tells me that the lifeless branches on the floor of the church will come to life at Easter. What appeared dead has born new life."
Along with the Catholics, many protestant churches tend to keep their Easter decorations low key.
"Other than a basket of Easter lilies our church won't be a lot different," said the Rev. James MacDonald, pastor at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on Baker Avenue in Schenectady. "One thing we might do that's a little different is that we have a procession where each child is given a flower and they take it up to a cross in the transept. We call it the flowering of the cross. It looks very beautiful and usually during the service we'll put outside in front of the church so that it's not in the way."
At the First United Methodist in downtown Schenectady, the Rev. Sara Baron says her congregation also has a cross covered in flowers that ends up outside the church's front door.
"During Holy week it is out in front of the doors, draped in black," said Baron. "We decorate it right before worship, up front in the sanctuary, and then immediately after worship move it out in front of the front doors."
The Rev. Megan Hogdin is only in her sixth month at the First Reformed Church of Scotia, but she's not expecting any big surprises next Sunday in how the church is decorated.
"Most of the other churches I've been associated with have a lot of white liturgical fabric and the Easter colors, which are white and gold," said Hogdin, a Missouri native. "This will be my first Easter here, but I don't expect a lot other than the fabric and maybe some lilies. Those are the decorations of our faith."