PHOTOS: Thousands enjoy Marco Island's 22nd Easter Sunday Sunrise Service

Marv Hollenbeck provides a keyboard prelude before the service, and the day, begin. Marco Island's 22nd Annual Easter Sunrise Service attracted thousands to the beach Sunday morning, with an Easter message entitled 'The King lives and it isn't Elvis.'

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Marv Hollenbeck provides a keyboard prelude before the service, and the day, begin. Marco Island's 22nd Annual Easter Sunrise Service attracted thousands to the beach Sunday morning, with an Easter message entitled "The King lives and it isn't Elvis."

— It was a beautiful morning to get up early.

Thousands on Marco Island got the chance, rising before dawn on Easter Sunday to head down to the beach behind the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort for Marco’s 22nd Annual Easter Sunrise Service.

Participants sat in the cool darkness, and watched as the light grew in the east. A steady stream of cars and pedestrians carrying folding chairs, plus strollers, blankets and a few fat-tired sand-friendly wheelchairs, made their way down Collier Blvd. and across to the beach.

On any other morning, you would not want to try parking your car in the street right in front of the Marriott, but Sunday, police officers including bicycle cop George Guyer and volunteers wearing fluorescent CERT vests directed traffic, blocking off one lane in each direction and keeping everyone safe.

Rob and Angela Ribbe brought their daughters Grace, 4, and Lauren, 2. The couple has another one on the way.

“We had to get up really early,” confided Grace.

After an organ prelude by Marv Hollenbeck, Alan Sandlin welcomed the congregants. He announced he had learned from Google that Marco’s Easter sunrise service was the largest in Florida.

When Sandlin asked for anyone who had been at the first Marco sunrise Easter service 22 years ago to stand, John Kett rose out of the crowd. Kett said he was one of the organizers of that inaugural event. Gesturing at the sea of people all around, he remembered that only a couple of hundred came out for that first service.

This Sunday’s gathering was a joint effort by three island churches: the New Life Community Church of God, Marco Presbyterian Church, and the First Baptist Church of Marco Island. The pastors of the three churches shared speaking duties at the family-friendly, inter-denominational ceremony.

Rev. Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church spoke first, leading the congregation in prayer, in front of a rough wooden cross draped in a simple white cloth. He quoted Isaac Bashevis Singer, who said paradoxically, “of course I believe in free will – I have no choice.”

The audience joined in singing “Alleluia! Alleluia!” and then listened as the accomplished vocal trio of Anna Schilling, Ben Sprankle and Amanda Gomes harmonized onstage.

The Easter Message, or sermon, was delivered by Rev. William Lyle of Marco Presbyterian. He took as his theme “The King Lives…and It Isn’t Elvis.” Lyle compared the life and death of Elvis Presley to the death and rebirth of Jesus, saying Elvis, unlike Christ, “has zero impact on my life.”

The message of Easter, he said, is we do have a choice in life. “You can change your life,” said Lyle. “The choice is yours.”

In a tribute to the efficacy of beach renourishment, even with the thousands who sat or milled around in front of the stage and loudspeakers set up on the sand, there was plenty of room for everyone, and a strip of mostly unpopulated sand near the water’s edge.

When the service started, some migrated over close to the water to enjoy the early morning with a little extra breathing room. Amateur photographer Paula Dennis arrived before 6 a.m. to capture the event, as more and more worshipers arrived to swell the crowd.

“I love being outdoors for Easter service,” she said. “It’s a fabulous feeling, like you’re where God intends you to be.”

Joe Reinert, 7, and his sister Mackenzie, 3, used their space to do a little sandcastle building as mom and dad took in the sermon.

Police and firefighters stood by, with a dune buggy and four-wheel-drive SUV, and a fire engine out on Collier Blvd., but there was no need for their services as the beautiful morning dawned.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, a spectator fleet of approximately 40 boats gathered offshore to join the ceremony. The words from the loudspeakers echoed off the anchored boats, and gentle waves barely stirred the crystal-clear water.

The sky brightened, and the sun rose over the beachside buildings, picking out each boat and eventually the audience in their chairs. Sandlin thanked the Marriott, the condominium neighbors, and all the volunteers who made the occasion possible.

Rev. Timothy Neptune of the First Baptist Church led the closing moments and prayer, and the throngs of worshippers headed toward a well-deserved breakfast.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

RayPray writes:

After 22 years, I was certain Jesus would make an appearance today to council & reassure our island Realtors....

People worshiped sun gods this way long before the advent of Christ and the progress of buggered choir boys.

MrsT writes:

My first sunrise service was a wonderful experience. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who helped make this happen. I hope to attend this beautiful service every year.

lauralbi1 writes:

Ray: Thanks for the great blog. Be assured it is saved and will be a part of others for publication in the next campaign. Please keep up the great work.
Ed Issler

Deke writes:

The Rev. William LYLE states that unlike Jesus, Elvis Presley has no impact on his life. That may be the case for him - HOWEVER there are millions of people throughout the world whom Elvis had a great impact on - me included and still does. In my opinion, in a thousand years time Elvis will be a deity whose legend is well documented and not created by dogma in many instances.

ski4life writes:

I think maybe you missed Rev. Lyle's point. Elvis can't save you, JESUS can.

thebiblesays writes:

The Bible says, "And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37). Be careful what you say. It may come back to haunt you.

Some of you are missing the pastor's point. We all are the same in that we have a past, present, and future. We all have things we did wrong and regrets in our past which is caused by our sin. "For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." (Romans 3:23) We are all living in the present trying to be happy in light of our past and our uncertain future. We all have a future and all of us will die. "it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27)

"For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9) Jesus can bring forgiveness and peace for your past. He can make the present a joy and give certainty for your future when your life here is over. I've been to graceland and seen Elvis' grammy for a gospel album. Elvis needed a savior just like we all do. Elvis was a great singer and musical artist but he will do nothing for me or you when you close your eyes for the last time. Only Jesus will save you when you breath your last....

Jesus Christ is Lord!

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