THE Easter story has been lost among the mountains of “chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies” seen at this time of year.

Vicars and priests across Sussex have had their say on the annual Christian festival as part of our Big Easter Survey, released today.

While some blamed schools and the education system others accepted it as a result of living in an increasingly secular society.

Pastor Carl Chambers, of Christ Church, Brighton, said the Easter story as told in the Bible has been “largely lost”.

He said: “Certainly if I consider what our children are taught in school, it’s more to do with the Easter bunny, Easter eggs and the Easter mouse than Jesus on the cross.”

Reverend Kevin O'Donnell, from Our Lady of Lords, Steyning Road, Rottingdean, said many people “haven’t got a clue”. He told how he has heard people say ‘’what’s the church got to do about Easter’. “That's how ignorant many people are out there," he added.

Reverend Martin Poole, of St Luke’s Prestonville, Old Shoreham Road, Brighton, said: “I think the large majority of the population are probably a bit unclear about the meaning of Easter, which has got all mixed up with chocolate eggs and fluffy Easter bunnies.”

He added that it is the job of the church to spread the message once more.

Despite Brighton and Hove being dubbed the country’s most godless city, churches will be packed this weekend for one of their busiest periods of the year.

Father Felix Mascarenhas, from the Good Shepherd Church in Dyke Road, Brighton, disagreed with many of his fellow vicars, stating that the message was alive and well.

He said: “On the contrary, it is something which is being rediscovered and better understood by people today. It is like plucking the chicken for a better taste, rather than eating it whole.”

Reverend Phil Ritchie, from All Saints Church, in The Drive, Hove, agreed.

He said: “I don’t think the meaning has been lost at all. Hope, love and the suffering and death of pain – those things are not lost.”

Meanwhile, Reverend Andy Flowerday, of All Saints, Church Hill, Patcham, said Easter was God’s way of telling us “he loves us massively”.

He said: “Talking about death on the cross is not a pleasant subject. If people don’t believe in God then what is Easter to them? It’s a holiday, which is great because everyone needs a holiday.

“But the whole thing about Easter is that it’s God saying to us all that he loves us massively.”

Reverend David Wallis, of The Beacon Parish, West Street/High St, Ditchling, said: "The meaning of Easter is that Jesus did and has come back to life and that message is as strong as ever. The meaning can never change – it’s as true today as it was in the very first Easter. 

"I absolutely believe it. What convinces me most of all in that truth is not only the historical evidence but the fact that the disciples went from being completely in fear for their lives when Jesus was crucified to this amazing transformation where they spent the rest of their lives and gave their lives to tell people about the resurrection.

"Ultimately anything to do with faith is about a relationship with God. The heart of Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. I think every single person who calls themselves a Christian has questions about God and Jesus but you always have that relationship and that’s the most important thing."

Reverend Ann Waizeneker, of the Church of The Good Shepherd, West Beach, Shoreham said: "The meaning is certainly not lost among people who believe. But I think it might be lost in wider society and that’s what we have to try and do something about. It’s because a lot of people aren’t brought up in a Christian way these days like they may have been maybe fifty to seventy years ago.

"I do believe in it. I think if you believe in God then you believe he can do everything. I wouldn’t want to be so black and white. We are all on a journey and what is important is to be thinking about it, talking about it and trying to understand it.