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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Creation sings hallelujah in a cemetery

 

An Easter sunrise service for neighbors — local, global, aviary and amphibian

June 15, 2024

Sun rises as an Easter service in North Decatur, Georgia, closes with the hymn “Morning Has Broken.” (Photo by the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Ayres)

Very early on Easter Sunday, two women went to the historic cemetery in Decatur, Georgia, accompanied by a musician. They carried a Christ candle and copies of a printed liturgy. Others joined them, but it was hard to say how many, for they were just shapes in the darkness — spirit or flesh? It was hard to tell until the morning light reached its fingers through the trees and gravestones to pull away the shroud of the long night.

The bullfrog was the first to sing — laying down the bassline. An owl set the tenor, and a woodpecker tapped its own refrain as the gathered crowd chanted a cappella before gently joined by the strumming of the guitar.

“Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?”

The Rev. Katie Archibald-Woodward, the Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley, and musician David Leonard celebrate Easter at sunrise with neighbors and visitors from around the world.
(Photo by Beth Waltemath)

The gospel was proclaimed through a poem by Roddy Hamilton, a pastor in Scotland, and the congregation was invited to reflect on questions as a way of imagining themselves into the drama of the day of resurrection both then and today.

Were the words “Christ is risen” spoken or just inscribed across the sky in striations of coral and pink? If they were said aloud, they were drowned by the chorus of songbirds perched upon every flowering branch or inside the leafy canopy of towering oaks.

The interfaith service was designed to appeal to spiritual wanderers and people without a church home. It was officiated by two PC(USA) clergywomen not serving in congregations, who wanted just to make a space for neighbors to worship.

“I’ve loved sunrise services since I was a child. That was my favorite part of Easter, and Easter was always my preferred Christian holiday and ritual,” said the Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley. McGregor Mosley has lived her calling through the connection between environmentalism and community engagement, first as director Earth Covenant Ministries, then Georgia Interfaith Power & Light and now at the U.S Department of Energy.

“I like the newness and the promise of the day, and so the opportunity to share that with neighbors and create a different kind of community through an Easter sunrise service is what motivated me to get up today,” said McGregor Mosley.

“It was important to let the setting and the sunrise do the proclaiming, not a sermon,” said the Rev. David Lewicki, pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church, who invited local clergy to collaborate in the event; recruited the musician, David Leonard; and who worked behind the scenes on logistics with a group of volunteers from the church he serves.

“I liked the circularity of life and death and new beginnings,” said Ruling Elder Dee Raeside, who welcomed people and handed out bulletins in the pastoral setting seated next to a large pond surrounded by flowering pear trees amidst the undulating slopes of stone markers.

Local PC(USA) clergy hosted an Easter sunrise service in the Historic Decatur cemetery outside Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

“I’m always drawn to things that are full immersion,” said the Rev. Katie Archibald-Woodward, who is the resident advisor for Villa International, a guest house for international students and visitors connected to Emory University or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with living within the community and providing hospitality for foreign visitors, Archibald-Woodward teaches morning yoga and Pilates classes and conducts a monthly communion service as part of her ministry validated by the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. Among the sunrise worshipers were her guests from the Netherlands, India, Tanzania and Ecuador.

Like the women who first proclaimed the good news of the resurrection, Archibald-Woodward and McGregor Mosley represent a growing trend among clergy ordained in the PC(USA) — like those supported by the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement who find ways to minister to Word and Sacrament and serve their neighbors without serving a church.

Archibald-Woodward was struck by the change in perspective that happened for her when she celebrated Easter outside of a sanctuary and its membership, instead embracing what the natural setting and the gathering of neighbors communicated.

“Having full immersion in the senses, getting my whole body into something and re-enacting the story being in a cemetery just felt so fitting,” said Archibald-Woodward.

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist

Today’s Focus: Easter sunrise service held in historic cemetery

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shahrukh Khan, Investment Analyst, Presbyterian Foundation 
John Kim, Senior Translator, Global Language Resources, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 

Let us pray

Thank you, God, for the loaves you provide in our lives. We pray that you continue to bless us as we grow and develop into who you have planned. We ask that your mercy and peace be poured out on to all. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.