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Ventura County Religion

Variety of Easter Sunrise Services Will Be Offered Around the County

Celebrations: From Ojai to Oxnard, from Fillmore to Thousand Oaks, thousands of Christians will be observing the holy day.


Going to church on Easter can be a little different if it's at an outdoor sunrise service.

"I'll have my overcoat on," said Jack Huyler, who will deliver the sunrise sermon at Ojai's Thacher High School. The school has welcomed the community to its 6:30 a.m. service at the campus' outdoor chapel since World War II.

And it will be business as usual for Huyler to compete with the occasional animal sounds. "Here, of course, you can always hear the horses."

In fact, he said, churchgoers at the Thacher service are welcome to bring dogs "if they can sit still and generally behave."

Jane McCarthy of Ojai said that is part of what makes a sunrise service special.

"You're communing with nature and God."

She has lost count of how many sunrise services she has attended at Thacher's outdoor chapel. What draws her out so early in the morning, she said, is the spectacular view of the Ojai Valley, extending to the coastal mountains and Piedra Blanca. "And you have the orange blossoms and that crisp air too."

Huyler likes sunrise services in part because "it's nice to know you're part of something bigger than the local. All throughout the Christian world, people are doing the same thing--going to sunrise services, but grumbling a little bit at first because it's early and chilly. They're doing it in Korea. In Connecticut."

And this year, they are doing it at Lake Casitas.

"I may have to preach in my slicker," said Pastor Paul Bergmann, whose Ojai Valley Community Church is holding its first sunrise service, at a spot overlooking the lake and a dock.

"If it rains, we may have to unplug the electric guitar too," Bergmann said. "But we're going into this with an attitude: We go, whether we get rain, five or 500 people."

Appropriate finery at the 6:30 a.m. Lake Casitas service will be everything from hip waders to hiking boots, earmuffs to stocking caps.

"We're hoping some early fishers will tie up at the dock," Bergmann said. "And maybe some campers will join us too. The dress code is warm."

Under the oak trees in Kenny Grove Park's amphitheater in Fillmore, nine pastors will strive to be heard above the chatter of birds. Organized by Gary Pokorney of the Fillmore Bible Church, the 6:30 a.m. service will be multidenominational. "Come as you are, and a warm blanket is fine," Pokorney said.

The idea of holding such early morning Easter services arose, he said, because "that's when the two Marys came to the tomb and found that Jesus had risen. So we're trying to capture the historical scenario."

Easter services around the county include:

* St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Oxnard will begin Easter Sunday at 6 a.m. on the patio. A short service will precede the traditional "first entrance" into the sanctuary.

After the sunrise service, a pancake breakfast will be offered in Fellowship Hall at $5 per ticket at the door from 7 to 9:30 a.m.

A 10 a.m. celebration will feature brass music and anthems by the chancel choir.

Spanish-language church school will begin at noon, with a service at 2 p.m. The Japanese-language services will join with the English services on Sunday.

An Easter egg hunt on the grounds for youngsters is expected to begin at 11:30 a.m.

St. Paul's is at 1800 South C St. For more information, call 487-2711.

* The Lake Casitas service is open to all, said Bergmann of the Ojai Valley Community Church.

"Dress warmly and bring chairs or blankets," Bergmann said of the 6:30 a.m. service. Coffee and doughnuts will be available, he said. Music and a message from Bergmann, a former NFL football player, are scheduled.

Drive to the front gate of Lake Casitas Recreation Area, at 11311 Santa Ana Road, and ask for directions. Entrance to the lake will be free.

For more information, call the church at 646-4324.

* The community is invited to Thacher School's Easter sunrise service at its outdoor chapel in Ojai at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. Huyler, a former Thacher English teacher, will deliver the message. Members of the Thacher community will offer readings and music.

After the service, the community will be offered hot cross buns, juice and coffee at the pergola. In case of rain, the service will be moved to the indoor chapel.

The school is at 5025 Thacher School Road in Ojai. For more information, call 646-4377.

* Along with eight other Fillmore churches, Bardsdale United Methodist Church invites the public to a day of old-fashioned Easter celebrations.

A multidenominational sunrise service in Kenny Grove Park, led by Pokorney, will greet the day at 6:30 a.m., followed by breakfast at the nearby Bardsdale United Methodist Church, beginning at 8 a.m. The traditional decorating of the bare Easter cross with flowers will follow.

At 9:15 a.m., an Easter egg hunt and games for children will be held on the church grounds. A celebration worship service will be held at 10 a.m.

Reservations for breakfast are encouraged. A donation will be accepted for the meal, with proceeds benefiting the church's hand bell choir.

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