Sunrise service is uplifting to worshipers on Easter Churchgoer says praying at dawn is 'more spiritual'

April 08, 1996|By Ginger Thompson | Ginger Thompson,SUN STAFF

Sunrise Easter worship service started extra early yesterday because of the change to daylight-saving time.

Although worshipers would lose an hour of sleep and have to face an unseasonably cold morning, the Rev. Errol Smith knew they would come. And they did.

Within an hour after he turned on the lights in the towering steeple of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church in Charles Village, about four dozen people had arrived. And there didn't appear to be a sleepy eye in the house.

Churches across Maryland welcomed worshipers at dawn yesterday for services big and small. About 50 people gathered at Mount Zora African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cecil County, for example, while about 350 people attended sunrise service at Emmanuel Christian Community Church in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore.

Denise Snowden, 34, attended the service at Mount Zora. She said that because they start so early, those who attend sunrise services are drawn by a deep commitment to their faith rather than concern about fulfilling an obligation.

"I like sunrise service because the later service seems to be filled with people who only come to church at Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day," Ms. Snowden said. "The sunrise service is more spiritual."

At Lovely Lane, Mr. Smith said he finds that sunrise services are popular because people feel especially uplifted to worship at dawn, the same time of day that the Gospels say Jesus rose from the grave.

For many people, sunrise service has become an important family occasion, he said.

"It's not easy to get out of bed," said Linda Webb of Fells Point. "But it feels great once you get to church and start singing."

Rita Miller, 45, of Hamilton said: "My family always went to sunrise service when I was a kid. So this week, when I saw a sign that this church was having a sunrise service, I decided to come and relive my family's tradition."

Lovely Lane is a church steeped in tradition. Established in 1772, it is one of the oldest Methodist congregations in this country and it is the place where the American Methodist Church was formally separated from the Church of England in 1784.

Religion, history and architecture students from around the world make research visits to the church each year.

About 20 students from the University of Tennessee attended sunrise service there yesterday before their 11-hour drive back to Knoxville. Sophomore Tim Smith said, "Easter represents a new beginning for all men, and I couldn't think of a better place to celebrate the holiday than at the church where Methodism began."

Mr. Smith, 20, and others at the service celebrated the resurrection of Jesus by renewing their baptismal vows and dabbing water on their foreheads to symbolize a cleansing of their souls.

At the end of the service, they and others in the congregation each held a lighted candle, walked single file onto a covered porch and sang "Alleluia" as rain fell on the church's stone walls.

Beatrice Badders, 76, shivered under a long black wool coat and red shawl over her shoulders.

"It's a beautiful service," she said. "It reminds me that things in life can look bad and dark for a while, and then Jesus makes it bright."

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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