Local church holds sunrise Easter service

A different kind of traditional Easter brings neighborhood residents together.

Joy Petersen

Many in the Prospect Park neighborhood were still asleep at sunrise on Sunday, but nearly 50 community members gathered to take part in a long-standing tradition.

For the past 35 years, the Prospect Park United Methodist Church has hosted a sunrise Easter service to celebrate the Christian holiday and the new season.

At this year’s service, the sunrise went unseen, with snow and cloudy skies, but the tradition remained.

Neighborhood residents and church members said they anticipated new beginnings and reminisced about the tradition’s past.

The service began with women of the community walking up the hill leading to the Witch’s Hat Water Tower while singing.

Pastor Nancy Victorin-Vangerud said the women re-enact the story of how Jesus’ female disciples were going to find his tomb.

“It’s very moving to be at the top of the hill and hear the women’s voices coming up through the park,” she said.

The service continued with music, Biblical readings and reflection.

The tradition isn’t just for congregation members, Victorin-Vangerud said, but for the community.

“The church is not just hiding away in a little sanctuary somewhere,” she said. “As people of faith, we can be out in the neighborhood together with all kinds of folks who come together for something like this.”

Due to the unpredictable weather, Joy DeHarpporte, a 20-year church member and University alumna, said there were accommodations for the musicians.

“If you’re playing an instrument that can’t get wet, you have to have one person holding the umbrella and one person playing the instrument,” she said, “and then maybe a third person holding the music.”

Barbara Backstrom, a former 37-year neighborhood resident, still attends the church after moving from Prospect Park 10 years ago. She said she remembers when the tradition began.

“We’ve never cancelled it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s at 5:30 or 6 o’clock depending on what sunrise is.”

The tradition is different from other religious celebrations, Backstrom said.

“It’s not often we celebrate beginnings that way, with a new day and a new spiritual celebration, with the coming of the sun and the light,” she said. “It’s a beautiful way of doing it.”

Newer to the tradition, Davidson Ward, an architecture sophomore, said the event allows him to spend time outdoors.

“It’s always nice and a good connection with nature,” he said.

Though snow fell early in the morning, Ward and his friend, Nathan Bolyard, an electrical engineering sophomore, biked to the early morning service.

After they visited with fellow service attendees at the church, Ward and Bolyard left on their bikes the same way they came, except for one thing: the sun had risen.