CAMDEN, Maine — Instead of festive bonnets and pretty dresses, the churchgoers wore parkas, winter boots and mittens.
And they arrived at Sunday morning’s Easter sunrise service at Ragged Mountain in high style: On a stately chairlift they rode to the top.
“Hope is alive,” intoned the Rev. Kevin Pleas of the First Congregational Church of Camden at the beginning of the ceremony.
The winter-bundled crowd of more than 70 nature lovers and believers called back to him, their voices reverberating over the brightening panorama of ocean, mountains and islands far below. According to Pleas, it was the sixth time he and his parishioners had made the unusual trek up the mountain to celebrate Easter.
“A new age is dawning,” they said in a unison as ragged as the mountain they stood upon.
The bank of clouds over Penobscot Bay started to glow, just as the group got ready to sing — and in the middle of the classic hymn “Morning Has Broken,” the sun peeked above the horizon.
“Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning,” they sang. “Born of the one light Eden saw play!”
A bird trilled exuberantly from a nearby branch, joining with the impromptu choir.
“Morning has broken!” Pleas said.
“Yes, it has,” a woman enthusiastically replied.
“This affirms our faith in the goodness and beauty of life,” Pleas said to the crowd. “I am delighted to have you here this morning, which is also part of the great scheme of God.”
As an extroit, signaling the end of the service, Mike Fletcher played from the hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on his saxophone. Though he couldn’t play for long because his fingers got too cold, he said, this year’s springtime ceremony differed from last year’s in a major way.
“This is much nicer,” he said. “It’s actually warmer than last year. Then, they were still skiing.”
While the Easter holiday celebrates the rebirth of Jesus, some on the mountain seemed more moved by nature than by Scripture.
“I just like being outside,” said Molly Mulhern of Camden. “If we want to thank God together, that’s all right, too.”
Jennifer Mirabile of Rockport, who brought her family with her, said the service was well worth the early morning wake-up call.
“It’s a beautiful way to celebrate Easter — to see the sun rise over the water,” she said.
Catharine McCann of Rockland was the first one up the mountain, and reported having “frozen toes” by the time the service began.
“I came because it’s beautiful,” she said. “I got to see the moon on my way up — it was like an Easter egg.”
Pleas expressed his thanks to the staff of the town-owned Snow Bowl for opening the mountain and the chairlift for the service. Jeff Kuller, director of the Camden Parks and Recreation Department, said the early morning activity was “a great thing.”
“We’re trying to really help people understand that this is a year-round recreation area,” he said of the Snow Bowl.
After the ceremony and the descent from the summit, Tammy Bragg of Appleton reflected on her morning at the community breakfast in the Snow Bowl lodge.
“It was wonderful,” she said of the sunrise service. “You could just feel the warmth of everybody there even though it was freezing at the top.”