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Greeting Easter dawn with outdoor services

April 24, 2014
By PETER CROWLEY ( , Lake Placid News

One service was shortly before sunrise, the other a little after.

Sixteen people, including the minister of First United Methodist Church, gathered in Riverside Park in Saranac Lake at 6 a.m. It was 21 degrees. Mist rose off the surface of Lake Flower, which reflected its surroundings like a mirror.

The predicted sunrise time was 6:05, but that didn't take mountains into account. Therefore, what had been intended as a sunrise service became a vigil in anticipation of the dawn. As the small congregation began by singing "Morning Has Broken," people snuck glances eastward, between the trunks of the park's tall white pines to a faint glow over the rim of Haystack Mountain.

The service only lasted about 25 minutes: a few songs, a Bible reading from the Acts of the Apostles and a short sermon by the Rev. Wilbert Gamble, a South Carolinian celebrating his first Easter as pastor in Saranac Lake. He spoke about how recalling Jesus' rise from the dead reminds Christians that their God is alive, and for all time.

No Easter finery was visible in the pale early light, although one never does see as much in the Adirondacks as in more southern climates. These people wore heavy winter parkas and boots.

"It's hardy people who come out here," guitar-playing song leader Michael Martin said afterward. "It's nice to be outdoors. Of course, you have a beautiful natural setting here in the Adirondacks."

Shortly after these folks went home - many of them to get ready for the main Methodist Easter service at 10 a.m. - the sun finally rose, and it was glorious. It took the chill out of the air and was blinding if you happened to be driving east - say, to Wilmington for another early Easter service, this one atop Little Whiteface Mountain.

To get there, one had to ride the gondola at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, alongside skiers and snowboarders enjoying the mountain's last day open this winter.

Even though the wooded slopes were green and brown and gray, the trails were still covered in bright-white manmade snow.

This service started at 8 a.m., and the sun was already pretty high in the sky. The temperature was in the mid 30s at the base of the mountain and not much cooler at the top of Little Whiteface. Colors shone brilliantly on the wooden deck where between 120 and 150 locals and visitors gathered to celebrate Easter.

Here, too, the dress was informal. The Rev. Bob Hess, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Wilmington, was just about the only one wearing a tie. Ski boots gave evidence that some were using this service to start a day on the slopes.

It began with young Tally Duell singing "Hallelujah" - the Leonard Cohen song rather than a traditional acclamation. Then Hess read a few passages from the Bible, including the resurrection story from Matthew's Gospel, and delivered an emotional sermon about what Easter means to him.

"(The apostles) didn't know if they could trust what Jesus said, but then came Easter, and he was risen, and everything he had said and told them was true," Hess said. "What a glorious day, a day when we have proof that we can trust the word of God.

"I also love that Easter tells me that we can count on him to come through," he added. "A lot of times I know in our lives, I've found myself facing mountains, facing obstacles, wondering, 'Where's God? Is he gonna be there?' Easter says he's gonna be there."

After Duell sang "How Great Thou Art" as the closing hymn, tourists took pictures of themselves against the backdrop of Lake Placid and the High Peaks.

"This view is just awesome," said Peg Blazer of Lake Placid, looking out at her favorite ski trail, the Follies, coming down from Whiteface's summit. "I marvel at it."

"You don't get much better than this," Sue Abbot-Jones of Bloomingdale said. "The Adirondacks are a good church. This is why you'd want to be here."

So what does Easter mean to some of those in attendance?

"Family, renewal," said Jessie Iseler Jr. of Toronto, visiting Lake Placid with her two daughters and her mother.

"Love, faith and hope. Freshness," said the senior Jessie Iseler, who has been visiting Lake Placid for 50 years, since taking her honeymoon here.

"Family and just a day to celebrate life," said Geno Bowler of Lake Placid, who was there with his parents Donna and Gene Bowler, who live on Long Island but have a second home in Lake Placid.

"It's inspirational," Donna Bowler said of the service. "It puts you closer to God. It just makes you feel special."

A quick gondola ride downhill and it was in the mid 40s at the base lodge, which was starting to fill up with skiers and snowboarders here to carve the crunchy spring snow. On the drive to Wilmington, the grass had been covered in frost. On the way home, it was all thawed and just starting to turn green.



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