Churches throughout Allegheny County host sunrise Easter services

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

For Jan Smith and his wife, getting up on Easter Sunday for a 6:30 a.m. service in the historic Old St. Luke's Church in Scott carries special meaning.

“It's more the symbolism and being able to celebrate the risen Christ and being there with people one respects,” said Smith, 75, of Scott. “I think Easter is a very important day.”

Old St. Luke's is one of several churches in the region where attendees will start Easter services while most are asleep.

Churchgoers and preachers say praying in the pre-dawn darkness and watching the sun rise during worship gives people a sense of what it was like when the women discovered the stone rolled away from Jesus' tomb 2,000 years ago.

Services throughout the region are indoors and outside.

“It's just simply beautiful,” said the Rev. Tom Parkinson, pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Fox Chapel, whose congregation will celebrate outside starting at 6:30 a.m.

“It starts in the darkness in our outdoor chapel. We gather in silence just as the women did. The service leads us into the light.

“There's something beautiful about gathering in darkness and watching the sun rise. It really gives you the feel of that Easter story and I think people connect with that.”

Church member Donna Ludwig agreed, saying outdoor services are unique.

“Some years it's been really cold — everyone is snuggled together, shoulder to shoulder. On those years, you hope the sermon is right to the point,” Ludwig, 59, of Indiana Township, said with a laugh. “The service is really cool. The sun is rising and you feel stirred with the hope and promise of Easter.”

Duquesne University theology professor George Worgul said sunrise church services are not unique to Christians. Life and goodness are associated with light, while death and evil are associated with darkness, he said. Religions around the world celebrate at sunrise.

“It's very normal. Even our natural world revolves around light and darkness,” Worgul said. “It's a natural step into the religious world. One of the things I like are that (the services) are frequently ecumenical. It's something Christians can celebrate together.”

An outdoor Easter sunrise service in Riverview Park on Observatory Hill is celebrating its 80th year. People brought lawn chairs and blankets for the years that had snow, said Tim Hartman, who is in charge of music for the service.

“It's a non-denominational service,” said Hartman, 54, of Ben Avon. “Halfway through the service, the sun rises and we use that as the moment to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. You can see the whole city up there.”

Pastor Jeff Leake of Allison Park Church in Hampton said his congregation has hosted a sunrise service on Easter for nearly 30 years. The church used to do it outside in Hampton Park before moving the service indoors in recent years. It attracts more than 150 people each year, he said.

“It became part of the culture of our church,” said Leake, 49, of Hampton. “When the sun comes up, it's really a beautiful experience.”

The Rev. Richard Davies said the Easter sunrise service is one of three major services for Old St. Luke's, which is Episcopal. Davies, 87, of Scott is in charge of the building, which has been without a congregation since 1930. He said many people like to celebrate there because of the church's history. The first building was built there in 1790.

“We're very history-oriented,” Davies said. “I think people like the experience of being in darkness and as they leave, the sun is coming up and if the weather is right, the daffodils are blooming.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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