By Rev. Canon Keith Nethery
Just over twenty years ago, a newly minted Anglican priest in Medicine Hat, Alberta, was asked if his congregations with join with another Anglican Church and a United Church for an Easter Sunrise Service in a park in the adjacent community of Redcliff.
A little skeptical of the decision to have the service at the time Environment Canada said would be sunrise, a band of 30 or 40 people gathered on a frosty morning to begin a new tradition.
Within a couple of years, the numbers had grown and it was not lost on said Anglican priest that the average age of those attending the Sunrise Service was significantly younger that the normal gathering in church.
Soon a new twist was added to the Morning Prayer styled liturgy. A United Church liturgy was found that traced the “wave of alleluias” as Easter dawned around the world.
The numbers continued to grow and being a reasonably intelligent person, said Anglican priest decided that the Sunrise Service would be a staple, but he changed the title to Sun(Son)rise service.
Then came a moment of spiritual awakening.
The service was held in a park that bordered on an open space inhabited by several hundred pronghorns (think: antelope.) As the sun peaked in the eastern sky that morning, a group of pronghorn walked slowly to the edge of the roadway that separated the park from the open space. They stood motionless, walking this rag tag bunch wrapped in blankets, toques pulled over their ears and steaming mugs of hot chocolate helping their frozen lips form the words of prayer. No sooner had the priest said amen, the pronghorns turned and sauntered slowly away, their worship concluded at the same time as the humans.
Said priest found himself back in Ontario in a few years, and the Sun(Son)rise service idea came with him.
Although the folks in the east didn’t seem to have the same need for the service to be right at sunrise, 7 am would be a fine time to gather on the steps of Christ Church, Lakeside. Pointing his trusty Ford north, our priest, turned east at Bryanston and just about drove off the road. Just as he turned the corner, the sun crested the horizon and soon was a glowing ball of brilliant yellow. As tears leaked from the corner of his eyes, our priestly friend found his spirit soaring. In a few moments, his eyes cleared and he drove off into the sunrise to lead worship. His spirit tingled in a way not often experienced and the regal pronghorns were in his thoughts.
I think this will mark the twentieth time I have presided at an Easter Sun(Son)rise service. I believe this will be the fifth different location and in a new parish, it will be a new group of people. This year we will be outside St. James Westminster at 6:30 am, with music and prayer, and yes, the wave of alleluias liturgy that helps us understand that Jesus is Risen and the whole world is participating.
Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is the rector at St. James’ Westminster, London.