Easter celebration starts early at Tacoma sunrise service

As the first rays of sun poked through a hazy curtain of clouds, guitarist Viren Lemmer strummed the opening notes of the Cat Stevens song, “Morning Has Broken.”

A well-bundled group of coffee-wielding faithful smiled and sang along at Tacoma’s Jack Hyde Park. The Easter sunrise service had begun.

“When I saw the weather report and it was 39 degrees I said, ‘Eww, is it just going to be 10 of us, the really hard core?’ ” said the Rev. Ann Adkinson of First United Methodist Church in Tacoma.

Her concerns were quickly allayed. The attendees were as sturdy as the boots she wore for the first time at an Easter service.

“It’s delightful,” Adkinson said. “It’s a testament that people have had a powerful enough experience in the past to make an effort to get up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday and trudge out and and bundle up. It means something to people; it’s worth doing.”

The outdoor service was created several years ago by The Bridge, another United Methodist church, which also sponsored Sunday’s event. Not only has the waterfront setting provided an iconic Northwest backdrop, it has proven to be lucky.

“We get to see the sunrise and every year it has not rained,” said Kelvin Brown, a certified lay minister with The Bridge. “It’s just become a great place to start our Easter.”

About 40 worshipers, most members of area United Methodist churches, celebrated their belief in Christ’s resurrection with prayer and song. It was a humble gathering, far removed from the thousands who witnessed the pope’s annual Mass and address at the Vatican, but Adkinson sensed the intimacy was appealing.

“I hope this is a service that feels accessible,” Adkinson said. “Some people have unfortunately been wounded by experiences in churches; they don’t even want to go into a building called a church. Having a service outside is one of the ways we can make it easier to gather. ... It’s truly inclusive.”

Retired pastor Jim LeGro delivered a homily about a man who witnessed a plane crash in a river, waded into the cold water and told survivors not to be afraid, that “help is coming.”

“If we can remind ourselves that we don’t need to be afraid, if can let go of fear, we can live more fully in God’s love and love of neighbor,” Adkinson said.

After an offering and communion, those gathered joined in a final hymn, facing the horizon as it blushed a delicate pink.

“There are many beautiful churches in the world,” said Adkinson, motioning toward Commencement Bay, “but it’s impossible to beat this.”

Brown ended the service with arms outstretched. “Christ has risen,” he said.

“Yes, go in peace,” added Adkinson, “but first have coffee.”

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