WATERVILLE — The community Easter Sunday sunrise service held on the steps of Colby College’s Miller Library is an annual tradition for Waterville resident Herb Oliver.

Herb Oliver, of Waterville, is reflected in a rain puddle Sunday during the Community Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service at Colby Collegein Waterville. Oliver said he enjoys the service, which he has attended for many years, and even more so this year after dealing with recent medical problems. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“I just like it,” Oliver said after the 6 a.m. service Easter Sunday. “Christ has risen and he’s been very important in my life the past few months.”

In the last year, Oliver has battled health problems including fluid in his lungs that led to the need for an operation that stressed out his kidneys and resulted in him needing dialysis.

He said his faith and the prayers of fellow congregants at the Waterville United Church of Christ have helped him and were one reason motivating him to wake up early for the Community Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service Sunday at Colby College.

Oliver was one of about 30 people who gathered on the steps of the library for the service commemorating Easter and Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The service is held annually by a group of six churches but is open to anyone. It was among a handful of sunrise services Sunday.

“Why at sunrise? Traditionally that’s when Jesus revealed himself to the women who had come to the tomb to anoint his body,” said the Rev. Mark Wilson, pastor at the Waterville United Church of Christ. “Having it at sunrise and something about being outside, people like it. There’s a unique sunrise service crowd that comes because it’s outside and because it’s at sunrise.”

In Gardiner, the Gardiner Area Ministerial Alliance hosted a sunrise service at First Baptist Church of Gardiner — a service that is part of an Easter tradition for Joshua and Darcy Phillips and their children.

Typically held on the banks of the Kennebec River at Waterfront Park, the service drew about 95 people Sunday but was moved inside because of flooding at the waterfront.

“It’s one of those things I grew up going to,” said Joshua Phillips, of Gardiner. “I wanted my children to experience it, too.”

Gardiner Area Ministerial Alliance president Wes Holland said hope and tradition keep worshipers returning to the sunrise service each year.

“They’re looking toward the past and looking toward the future,” he said.

Members of First Baptist Church of Gardiner greet each other Sunday after Easter service. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Eight churches participate in the alliance, and most of those had representatives from their congregations at the service.

Ann Callahan, of Graceway Christian Fellowship, who led the service, reminded worshippers during the sermon to live genuinely.

“We must all strive to live authentically,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to share your failures and woes. It’s a trademark of authenticity.”

Norine Leathers, of Gardiner, brings her family to the sunrise service every year, which started when her four daughters were children.

Now Leathers is a grandmother of seven and a great-grandmother of three.

“This has been a family tradition for I can’t tell you how many years,” Leathers said. “We go to sunrise service. We have breakfast at our church, and my whole family, everybody comes.”

Leathers has four daughters, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Among her daughters participating was Trisha Leathers, who came with her partner, Donald Pelletier, and their son, Tucker Pelletier.

“It’s been nice,” Trisha Leathers said. “It used to be just one church, but now its a multi-denominational group. More people come.”

Although the sun wasn’t visible Sunday morning through the clouds, those at Sunday’s Waterville service enjoyed warm weather and the early morning chirping of birds as they gathered for their simple celebration.

They sang songs and listened as Wilson and other area clergy members led them in prayer and meditation.

“One of the things I love about this is it’s one of the places local churches get together,” Wilson said. “People from the churches, clergy from the churches, we get together and we worship together. I think that’s really a beautiful thing.”

As the crowd dissipated after Sunday’s service, small groups of people stopped and chatted and took in the fresh air.

“We just always come,” Oliver said. “It’s a very meaningful start to Easter.”


The Rev. Mark Wilson, left, of the Waterville UCC, and other pastors, including, from center to right, John Balicki, Thom Blackstone and Kim Strader, preside over the Community Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service on Sunday at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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