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Easter started early in the morning for thousands on Marco Island.

The Easter Sunrise Service marked its 31st year, on the beach behind the JW Marriott hotel, on a beautiful morning that saw locals wearing jackets, and visitors from the north in T-shirts and shorts.

Despite the lateness of Easter this year, which means more seasonal residents have already returned north, the crowd filled the beach, until closer to the water’s edge, where those who wanted more open space around them sat or stood.

Larger waves than usual broke against the shore, causing the spectator fleet of boats out in the Gulf to be smaller than normal, only 10 boats full of intrepid mariners, where 50 or 60 often bob in the swells on Easter morning. And the nearly full moon sinking toward the Gulf, plus the lateness of Easter – it will not come later in April until 2038 – meant the sky was lighter, and the congregation was not sitting in full darkness, even before the musical prelude.

That prelude was provided by John Stein on keyboard and Sandy Stein on flute, while during the service, saxophonist Eirinn Abu, who has played at many Marco churches, demonstrated his virtuoso technique. Abu also spoke of how Christian faith prevented him from carrying through an intention to commit suicide, while he was touring with Dolly Parton.

Unlike most Easter Sunrise Services on Marco, all of the pastors speaking came from Marco Presbyterian Church, apart from Rev. Thomas McCulley of New Life Community Church, who provided the closing comments and prayer. He finished by calling out “He is risen!” and raising his arms triumphally.

Before that, longtime master of ceremonies Alan Sandlin, who guesstimated he has been doing the job for 25 years, welcomed the crowd, thanking the Marriott along with the Madeira and Royal Seafarer condominium associations. Revs. Greg Poland and Scott Kerens of Marco Presbyterian led prayers, before Rev. Dr. Steve Schoof, senior pastor of Marco Presbyterian delivered the principal Easter message.

For his talk, titled “Hopelessness to Hopefulness,” Schoof took as his text the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” and the classic Daniel Defoe adventure story “Robinson Crusoe,” which he called “one of the greatest ‘wash up on an island and survive’ stories.” Schoof contrasted the “hopelessness” of “Cast Away” with the hopefulness of Robinson Crusoe, which he said is “more about a story of salvation than survival.”

“A general feeling – a negative mood – a dark cloud of hopelessness pervades the day in which you and I are living. Many today are like Hanks’ character standing at the crossroads, with nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to.” The answer, he said, is to be found in acceptance of Jesus Christ.

Schoof said after the service that a specific set of circumstances led to only two churches’ ministers speaking at the beach on Sunday, and “next year, we expect to be back with more pastors from other churches. We haven’t changed our principles.”

People such as Marrolyn Rekus, who walks the beach each morning, had way more company than usual on Sunday, standing in a long line waiting for the beach access boardwalk after the service. As she and others know, to find peace and beauty, it is hard to beat the interface where the sand meets the shore early in the morning.

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