Ian Lynch, left, pastor of the Waterville United Church of Christ, strums his guitar Sunday while Kim Shrader, pastor of the Benton Falls Church in Waterville and the Winslow Congregational Church, leads a group of about 30 worshippers in song during an Easter sunrise service at Head of Falls in Waterville. The event has been held annually since 2021. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — Beneath a smattering of clouds slowly painted pink by the rising sun, about 30 people huddled Sunday morning at the gazebo beside the Two-Cent Bridge that spans the Kennebec River and connects Waterville and Winslow.

They were at Head of Falls for an Easter sunrise service that has become something of a tradition for some of the city’s smaller congregations.

While mockingbirds chirped and the river flowed, the attendees, bundled up against freezing temperatures, offered prayers and sang for the third time since the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council held its first Easter sunrise service at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

As many churches in the area have recently been forced to close their doors due to dwindling attendance in the post-pandemic era, Kim Shrader, pastor of the Benton Falls Church in Waterville and the Winslow Congregational Church, said the annual service has helped create and embolden a sense of community among the five churches and congregations represented at the service, many of which are facing similar struggles.

“It’s a nice blessing for us who have smaller congregations,” Shrader said. “We get to gather today, those with no special services during Holy Week, and share the load and pray together.”

Shrader delivered a sermon to the crowd beside Elizabeth Bailey-Mitchell, pastor of Waterville’s Pleasant Street United Methodist Church, and Ian Lynch, pastor of Waterville’s United Church of Christ, in which she explained the significance of holding the service just before sunrise.


Alluding to the story of the four women followers of Christ discovering Jesus’ empty tomb at dawn, Shrader explained the symbolism of light pushing through darkness after the discovery of the resurrection.

“We walked the dark path, the sky just beginning to lighten,” she said. “I turned and looked again in the tomb, but this time, there was not darkness, but light, and two angels sitting where Jesus’ body should be.”

Bailey-Mitchell said the first sunrise service at Head of Falls Park in 2021 provided a crucial sense of community for pastors and congregants amid a spike in COVID-19 infections. In the years since, she said, it has become a broader tradition for her and many community members of varying faiths.

“You see some new faces, you see some old faces, but that’s not what’s special,” Bailey-Mitchell said. “It’s about different traditions, and new ones, too. Especially Easter morning, we come together, and whether we have people who speak different languages or have different traditions, we all speak the same language today when we say, ‘Christ is risen,’ because they know the response is. …”

“Christ is risen, indeed!” the three pastors shouted together.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story