PHOTOS: Big crowd turns out for Marco Easter Sunrise Service on the Beach

Perfect weather attracts throngs of worshippers

— As popular with visitors as it is with locals, the 21st annual Marco Island Easter Sunrise Service on the Beach attracted upwards of 7,000 worshippers.

"We gave out about 2,700 programs, and work on a ratio of about 3 people to a program," said co-organizer Alan Sandlin. It was, he said, among the highest-attended sunrise services in the island's history.

Limping along in a cast before the start, Carol Thexton of Naples said she nevertheless made the trip to Marco because she feels the setting on the wide beach in front of the Marco Island Marriott Resort is special.

"It's just a wonderful experience," she said, "I like the people, the intimacy, the relaxation part of it, rather than being in a church where you're confined."

Long-time Marco resident Thilo Bayer said afterwards that he was inspired by the message from main speaker, Rev. Bill Lyle of the Marco Presbyterian Church. Lyle's theme was "toothaches, toys and timeless truths."

Bayer said Lyle's references to daily problems and scary headlines were moot.

"We're all overwhelmed with them," he said, "but there's a greater truth that we all need to be aware of."

Eight-year-old Jane Nelson of West Virginia attended the service along with her six-strong family.

"I liked the music, and listening to the messages," she said.

Co-organizer Loren Roberts said the cost of staging the service, about $10,000 each year, is picked up by the Presbyterian Church.

"We do it for the community," Roberts said, adding that planning and execution had gone off particularly smoothly this year.

Dr. Roger Felipe of the First Baptist Church of Marco gave the opening moments and prayer, soprano Connie Fee sang My Lord What A Morning, and Their Is A Savior, and Rev. Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church of God gave the closing moments and prayer.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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