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Facebook is no substitute for sunrise service

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It’s Easter.

There’s an orange glow to the horizon and moonlight fills the yard. It’s 5:15. I check the outdoor thermometer and can’t believe what I see…55 degrees. This Easter Sunday sunrise service will be like few others I’ve experienced at Warwick Neck Light.

Weather has never interrupted the service. Somewhere, someone has the count, but it’s safe to say the service has been conducted for at least the past 60 years, even though many of those years the sun didn’t make an appearance through the driving snow or rain. Even when the weather made it a challenge, people turned out bundled in heavy down parkas, boots and ski gloves. They stood in tight-knit groups, finding what warmth they could and in muffled tones sang, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

The early arrivals parked close to the lighthouse gates while the rest of us hiked in from the cars that lined Warwick Neck Avenue. Even on those cold Easter mornings, more than 150 would turn out. On those perfect Easter mornings there would easily be 250 to 300.

This was one of those rare perfect Easter sunrise mornings.

I left at 5:30, figuring even at that hour parked cars could be backed up to the fairway at Warwick Country Club. But, no, the road was open and I parked within a block of the lighthouse gates. The light’s green beacon was a stark contrast to the dark heavens and coin-like moon.

I walked past a few parked cars, their engines running and people staring at their phones inside. Even on Easter Sunday they couldn’t be without their phones. Fewer than a dozen people stood on the lighthouse grounds looking out toward the Bristol shoreline that was brightening. Sound equipment was in place and there was a short burst of music as it was put to the test.

At one time the service had been set by astronomical clock to coincide with the sunrise. But, as I was to learn, that had been abandoned for 6 a.m. and either the sun would have just risen or would rise during the service. That made sense.

As the hour drew near, more people arrived, but nothing like the crowds of past. Ron Caniglia, a regular all these years, was there with his dog. For a long time, his companion was a golden retriever. This time a dachshund wearing a plaid jacket accompanied him.

“Is that a dog or a rug?” joked a man beside him.

Ron and I caught up on the news. A contractor, Ron just completed the Fair House on Fair Street in Pawtuxet that has been converted into affordable housing units overseen by the House of Hope. He talked about other affordable housing projects he is working on and lamented about the prejudice of some communities that don’t want “those people” living near them. That hasn’t been the case in Pawtuxet. The village has embraced the preservation of one of its most prominent homes and its new use.

Low clouds blurred the actual moment the sun’s orb climbed above the horizon. There was a brightening, a streak across the Bristol shoreline across the bay. The service started. We were singing, “Thine is the glory.”

I saw hands rise. This was new. Sunrise services at Warwick Light have always been celebratory but not evangelical events with waving hands, dancing and shouts of “thank you, Lord.” These hands were not waving in praise, but rather held cell phones to record the occasion. I imagine pictures and videos were being posted at that very moment to Facebook. Friends, wherever they might be across the world, would be seeing the morning sky this Easter morning.

I suppose that it a good thing, although it hardly compares to the feeling of a new day and the rebirth that Easter brings. It can’t substitute for meeting friends and, for that matter, strangers on a morning filled with hope. Nor in no way can I see it spiritually rewarding.

I know already I’ll be up at 5:30 next Easter morning. It’s an experience that can only be captured in person regardless, or maybe because, of what Mother Nature and fellow human beings deliver.

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