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Easter services draw new and seasoned churchgoers

Sunday, April 24, 2011 | 4:59 p.m. CDT; updated 9:32 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 25, 2011
The morning sun shines through the sanctuary windows during the Easter morning service at Community United Methodist Church. The service was planned to be held outside but was moved inside because of recent rain.

COLUMBIA — In the parking lot behind St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church on West Boulevard, about 40 people braved the early morning cold to attend a sunrise Easter service that began at about 6:30.

Seated on folding chairs, some wrapped in blankets or winter coats, they worshipped facing the trees as the sun rose in the east, brightening the overcast sky. The service was conducted without microphones, and the guitars, percussion and voices of the musicians blended with the birdcalls overhead.

The sunrise service “helps connect faith with creation and nature,” Pastor Paul Moessner said.

Moessner, who led the service with Associate Pastor Julia Will, said he thought that the service went well and that the turnout was fairly standard.

St. Andrew’s has been holding the sunrise service for about 20 years, Moessner said.

“Easter was totally unexpected,” he said. “The followers of Jesus did not expect what happened. So when there’s something that’s different from our weekly routine, it adds to our experience.”

The weather at the sunrise service every year is anything from chilly to freezing, Moessner said, and people do not always expect or prepare for it. The crisp air, though, “sets the atmosphere for the sense of resurrection,” he said.

Donna Stephens came prepared with two blankets, something she said she learned to do after her first sunrise service. She grew up attending sunrise services with her family and has been going to the one at St. Andrew’s since 2002.

She said she enjoys the music and faith-sharing at the services, and just being outside with the sunrise.

“When I envision the sun coming up, I envision Christ rising,” she said.

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A few streets away on Garth Avenue, more than 50 churchgoers trickled in during Chosen Generation Ministries' mid-morning Resurrection Service, where Bishop Lorenzo Lawson preached his Easter message to the crowd.

"It's not about bunnies, colored eggs or chocolate," Lawson said. "It's all about getting to know Jesus."

Lawson said he believes the only way to achieve happiness is through God.

"I was chasing the dollar, chasing skirts, chasing the bling-bling," he said. "It made me miserable."

As Lawson preached, members of the congregation responded with calls of "praise Jesus" and "you better recognize." The sounds of clapping and dancing filled the open room at the Old Labor Temple as music played.

Among the congregation was Lawson's friend Randall Williams, who also goes by "Seteye." He regularly attends Chosen Generation Ministries' services, writes poetry and reaches out to youths.

"I'm a preacher's son, and I've done 32 years in prison for armed robbery," said Williams, 50. "I help out as many young folks as I can. If I can give $5, I give it."

Kevin Shearon, 19, said Williams has given him more than just $5.

"I was thrown out on the street by my foster parents after I turned 18," Shearon said. "Seteye let me live at his apartment for a while (in 2009)."

Shearon, who graduated from Moberly Senior High School in 2010, said Williams brought him to Chosen Generation Ministries on Easter Sunday.

"I'm looking for what everyone looks for when they come to church, acceptance," Shearon said. "Acceptance from God."

Williams said there never was a time he didn't believe in God.

"You don't need money to be happy," he said. "You need the Lord because you were broke when you were born."

The Resurrection Service was Joesanne Ryford's first with Chosen Generation Ministries. 

"We just moved to the neighborhood here," said Ryford, 34, a stay-at-home mother.

Ryford came with her 14-year-old daughter, Makayla,

"I want to better my life," Ryford said of her desire to attend church on a regular basis.


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