Sun rises on big day for devotees

Sun rises on big day for devotees

Easter tradition attracts more than 1,000 to downtown LR

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Aziza Muza

Photographer Melissa Sue Gerrits

More than 15 years ago, Frances Johnson went to her first sunrise Easter service, and she’s been back every year since.

But this year proved a little more special for the Little Rock native. Her 17-year-old son, Elijah Ash, performed “Make a Joyful Noise to the Lord” as a member of the Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School choir.

“It’s different coming this many years as an attendee,” said Johnson, who covered herself with a blanket and scoped out her seat on the second tier at the First Security Amphitheater more than an hour before the start of the ecumenical worship. “To have him participate, I felt like it was an honor.”

Johnson, 45, was among the more than 1,000 people in attendance at the 26th annual community Easter service. The service is sponsored by Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church.

Working under Riverfront Park’s lights and the yellow lights from the Broadway Bridge, organizers of the service lined the stage with flowers and tied balloons to the entrances of the park.

By 6:20 a.m., a steady flow of people – some toting lawn chairs, blankets and coffee – started pouring in, dotting what was left of the seating and lawn at the park, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. About 10 minutes later, the sun rose over the Interstate 30 bridge.

Throughout the service, the hosting church’s choir shared the stage with Parkview and Philander Smith Collegiate choirs. Donations collected at the service went to Our House, a Little Rock-based organization that provides shelter and other services to the homeless. Kathy Webb, the executive director of Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and a former state representative, read from the book of Matthew.

Britt Skarda, senior pastor at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, urged the crowd to embrace and thrive on the “happy terror” stemming from knowing the power of God.

“There is power in gathered community, isn’t there ?”Skarda said.

“And yet coming together has risks as well. It can stir up things. It can shake the foundations … raise the roof like the tremors of an earthquake.”

Like the women visiting Jesus’ grave only to learn he had risen, Skarda said everyone experiences “a tremor, followed by an earthquake that shakes us” every now and then.

“A monster jumps out of the darkness with a diagnosis of cancer, or a loved one that dies, or a war breaks out, or a terrorist goes on a rampage,” he said. “And we come trembling into God’s presence, seeking mercy and hope.”

For Johnson, that story – “to be able to do it as the Scripture would say” – made the sunrise service more special. The Covenant of Zion Cathedral Church member first attended in 1997 at the invitation of a friend who attended Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church.

“The harmony of it all – to be out here like this early with so many people,” Johnson said of what brought her back each year. “It’s just beautiful to me.”

The day also brought out many first-timers.

Roger Pouncey, 71, of El Paso went to Sunday’s service with his wife, Glenda, to continue what they call a family tradition. Glenda Pouncey, 62, said the church the couple regularly attend – Mountain Springs Baptist Church in Cabot – stopped sunrise Easter services when a new pastor came in.

“Even when I was a child, we used to go to sunrise service,” Roger Pouncey said. “It’s just a special time of year for all of us.”

Arkansas, Pages 7 on 04/21/2014

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