Amid the predawn birds’ songs, the voices of the Davie Street Presbyterian choir rose early Easter morning. Five congregations joined them on the east lawn of the North Carolina Capitol Building for the annual Capitol Square sunrise service, a tradition stretching back to the early 1900s.
Members of First Baptist Church, Wilmington Street; First Baptist Church, Salisbury Street; Edenton Street United Methodist Church; First Presbyterian Church; and Davie Street Presbyterian Church, as well other Triangle believers, met in the darkness and drizzle to observe one of the most important Christian holidays. They read from programs lit by smartphones until the sun came up at their backs. And they listened as horns from a Shaw University brass quartet resounded in celebration.
“Today is one of the great days in all of Christian life,” Dr. Byron Wade of Davie Street Presbyterian said in his sermon.
This sunrise service turns the back steps of the capitol building into a pulpit and strives for unity in joining three predominantly white and two historically black churches. Ken Krause, chair of the Capitol sunrise service committee, noted that religion remains one of the most segregated activities in society.
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“Every church puts forth a concerted effort to be ‘Come one, come all,’ but where I work, where my children go to school, everything is more diverse than where I worship on Sunday morning,” Krause said. “This is one of the most diverse congregations you’ll see this Easter.”
Rezelle Williams attends First Baptist, Wilmington Street at the southeast corner of Capitol Square. She said the service represents something the individual churches rarely achieve – unity.
“We’re all Christians, we all believe in Jesus, but we come from different denominations,” she said. “This is what being a Christian is all about.”
Elizabeth Clarkson, a deacon at First Baptist, Wilmington Street, and one of the longest serving members of the sunrise service committee said the service brings several circles of people together under one Christian umbrella.
“This brings more people out and eliminates some of the separation,” Clarkson said.
The churches rotate year to year which one delivers the sermon and brings a choir. Wade said he was up early preparing for this year’s message, which he rooted in evangelism. He said the Christian community is shrinking and depends on those in the church, any church, to spread its teachings.
“There’s a saying in the black churches, ‘If you didn’t know, you better tell somebody else,’” Wade said to the assembled parishioners. “We can not be afraid of telling who Jesus is.”
The sunrise service drew some beyond the pews of the five participating churches. John Hurst said he does not regularly attend church, but has been in the Capitol Square crowd for a number of Easter mornings. The appeal, he said, is the sunrise itself and the combining of people from many walks of life.
“I would say I’m a typical spiritual person,” Hurst said. “This service is great. I enjoy the way it makes me feel.”
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