Marco’s Easter sunrise service celebrates 30 years

Jill Yris
Special to the Eagle

Years ago, the Naples Daily News sent out a questionnaire to local churches saying – “Spirituality is not only an important subject in the country, but it is an important subject to the Naples Daily News. What are your church’s strengths?”

Marco Presbyterian Church answered: “A caring family; small enough to provide individual love and care to each member, large enough to reach into the community with the same concerns.”

File: Drone view of the 2016 Marco Island Sunrise Easter Service.

And reach into the community it has because 30 years ago, Marco Presbyterian Church, located across from Rose Marina, started the Easter morning sunrise service on the beach. The Rev. Dr. Bruce Fiol, now retired from MPC, remembered that he had urged his congregation to come to the service and bring a friend. That early morning, between greeting old friends for a word or a hug, he was certainly surprised by the turnout.

The service has been drawing crowds since its inception, wrote Eagle correspondent Lance Shearer in his Easter sunrise service 25th anniversary article, and he continued, there were enough people on the beach to populate a good sized village or an above average rock concert!

Original organizer John Kett’s obituary mentions his volunteering for the beach service and it’s mentioned as well in Toledo, Ohio’s publication The Blade. In Nanci Theoret’s article “The Choicest Neighborhoods” published July 2010 in Gulfshore Life, she writes, “Marco Island itself is a unique community, and residents tend to celebrate Christmas parades and the Fourth of July in a spirit of togetherness. Need further proof? The island’s Easter sunrise service on the beach attracts the largest numbers in Florida — a whopping 8,000 people.”

File: The Marco Easter Sunrise service on the beach attracts thousands.

But why does this particular event work?

 First let’s go back to the beginning. In America in 1988, gasoline cost $.91, Ronald Reagan was President and the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XXII. On Marco Island, residents were upset about a fourth traffic light being installed!

And how did Marco beach appear then? Austin Bell, curator of collections, Marco Island Historical Society said, “The sands are always shifting around Marco Island, sometimes naturally and other times through human intervention. Only 30 years ago, the water was much closer to Marco’s condos and hotels than it is today. That changed after a major beach re-nourishment project in 1990, which added more than one million cubic yards of sand to the beach. The beach is now regularly re-nourished to mitigate the effects of erosion and maintain the natural attraction that is so vital to Marco Island's economy.”

Linda and Alan Sandlin are well-known in the area for their business in real estate as well as their community service. Linda was a soloist in the original service and will perform again this year and Alan chairs the service committee and also takes us “back to the beach.”

“The service began at the Marco Beach Hotel, owned by the Deltona Corporation, in front of the original hotel on the beach, the Voyager,” said Alan Sandlin.

“Now of course, that area is the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and the Madeira Condominium. However, with all the changes in the landscape, the Easter sunrise service is essentially still being held in the same location as it was 30 years ago.

“It is a tribute to Marco Island, its residents, city and business leaders and founder Marco Presbyterian Church that the service has become Marco Island’s largest single community event.”

Marco beach renourishment 1991.

He’s right – it’s the people who make this event work. Much the same as our parades and festivals, volunteers allow for smooth flow on and off the beach, drive golf carts, hand out programs and even go so far as to mention it in their own obituaries.

Whatever your reasons for rolling out of bed early on April 1, tourist or resident, curious bystander or long-time attendee, think of the Easter Sunrise Service as being surrounded by a caring family and allow the music and message to fill your being as the sun begins to rise over our beautiful Marco beach.

Jill Yris is an established writer of magazine features, web and business work as well as ghostwriting and editing books. Her portfolio includes national subjects such as actress Shirley Jones, Wall Street Journalist Foster Winans, renowned artist Taylor Oughton and Coach Johnny Majors.;

If you go

Marco Island’s 30th Annual Easter Sunrise Service on the Beach

When: 7 a.m., Sunday, April 1, prelude begins at 6:45 a.m.

Where: JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, 400 S. Collier Boulevard, Marco Island

Beach access: North of the Marriott Spa and the public access north of the Madeira Condominium; Resident’s Beach parking lot will open at 6 a.m. for member parking.

Parking: The Marco Police and volunteers will direct traffic and assist with parking, including double parking along Collier Boulevard.

Guest music: Soloists’ Dawn Birch & Linda Sandlin; flutist Sandy Stein; pianist John Stein

What to bring: Blanket or chair

Special needs: For those who need assistance, handicap parking will be available near the Marriott Spa with golf carts to assist to the edge of the beach.

Information: 239-394-8186