It was a brisk 35 degrees at Warwick Light on Easter Sunday morning but the hearts of at least 120 churchgoers from local churches were warm, as the sun rose over Narragansett Bay and worshipers rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
While it was overcast and they were bundled in winter clothing, the chilly air and dark clouds didn’t dampen their joyous spirits. In fact, getting the chance to adore their Lord in an outdoor setting illuminated their moods.
“It gives me a peaceful feeling,” said Lori Curry of Asbury United Methodist Church. “It’s a celebration of God’s life and Jesus’ resurrection.”
Her longtime friend and fellow member of Asbury, Sue Gibbs, agreed. She said they have been attending the service for more than a decade.
“We love coming here every year,” said Gibbs. “Being so close to nature makes you feel closer to God. It’s a different experience than being in the church. You can relate more to what they found that morning and how it was for them to be outside and find the empty grave.”
That, said Bill Aldrich, pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church, is exactly the point of the Bay side service. They congregate at sunrise to reflect on the story of Christ’s resurrection in the Bible, which depicts the women of Jerusalem visiting Jesus’ tomb early in the morning to find that Jesus was no longer there and had risen from the dead.
Also, he feels the atmosphere puts churchgoers in a different frame of mind and encourages them to “hear God more clearly.”
“You hear a message that may not be much different than you hear any given Sunday, but you’re outside looking out at the beautiful bay, seeing the islands and watching the sun rise,” he said after the service. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and to get together with so many people is great.”
For more than 90 years, Shawomet Baptist Church, which recently closed, sponsored the service. But, the pastors of four nearby American Baptist churches decided they wanted to continue the tradition.
Among them was Aldrich, along with George Barclay, pastor of Norwood Baptist Church, Mark Galloway, acting pastor at People’s Baptist Church, as well as John Houlker, pastor at Warwick Central Baptist Church.
“It runs deep that we can do something as a community of faith and not as compartmentalized churches,” Houlker said.
After the service, a breakfast was held at Warwick Central Baptist Church at 3270 Post Road. There, volunteers served pancakes, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit and cereal.
Two Toll Gate juniors, Casey Johnson, 17, and Rachel Walker, 16, said they enjoyed helping out.
“It’s always good to work with the entire church group,” Johnson said. “It gives you a good feeling to know that everyone is one big family.”
Walker feels the same. She added that she’s been a member of Warwick Central Baptist Church for quite some time and the early morning service is part of a tradition for her family.
“I went to the service when I was younger and it’s so pretty,” she said.
Johnson and Walker, as well as a group of other youth church members, held a car wash at the church Saturday to raise funds for the breakfast and earn community service hours. According to member Keith Nelson, who has been the breakfast’s head cook for more than 20 years, they raised $250.
While all the money wasn’t spent to finance the breakfast, Nelson said leftover funds will go toward sending kids and chaperones to the annual National Youth Conference. This year, it will be held in July in Washington, D.C. There, they will complete service projects, visit monuments and even spend a day at an amusement park.
“It’s great,” Nelson said.
Further, Aldrich said that while churches are closing and the number of people who attend services is dwindling, all is not lost. Rather, he said, God’s message resonates regardless.
“We see organized religion sliding down the tubes but that doesn’t mean our faith slides down the tubes,” he said. “The work of God never fails and goes on through us and by us. If society is coming to a point where the church no longer works, that just means God is going to find another way to get his work done.”