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Easter services draw the faithful for devotion, dunking

In Pacific Palisades, a band plays and worshipers in wetsuits are baptized. Meanwhile, the Hollywood Bowl hosts its annual sunrise service, and a carnival is set up on skid row.

April 13, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

With the moon still high in the sky, about 350 people gathered at sunrise Sunday to celebrate Easter and the traditional rite of baptism at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades -- one of scores of events that attracted tens of thousands of worshipers across Southern California.

At the beach service, a group of young musicians from Trinity Church of Santa Monica set up drums and electric guitars on a plywood platform to play hymns and pop hits, including U2's "Yahweh."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Easter at Will Rogers State Beach: In Monday's Section A, a photo caption with an article about Southland Easter services misidentified Pastor Bruce Mitchell of Santa Monica's Westside Christian Fellowship as Jim Leonard of First Baptist Church of West Los Angeles.

The Rev. Will Bredberg, who helped start the nondenominational service 31 years ago, welcomed worshipers, many of whom attend some of the dozen churches that sponsored the event.

"The thing that brings us out at this crazy time of the morning is the absolute conviction that Jesus Christ, a carpenter from Nazareth, died on a cross 2,000 years ago," Bredberg said, proclaiming, "He is risen."

The worshipers, camped out on blankets and in beach chairs, responded: "He is risen indeed."

Elsewhere in the Southland, people flocked to Easter services at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine, the Huntington Beach Pier and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles, where Cardinal Roger Mahony celebrated Mass.

The Fred Jordan Mission on Saturday set up a carnival near down- town L.A.'s skid row with a petting zoo, rock-climbing wall and face painting, plus a buffet lunch for the homeless.

Nearby, members of Fellowship Baptist Church gathered in a sunny parking lot behind the Emmanuel Baptist Rescue Mission after a morning service to baptize three of their own in a 50-gallon metal trough.

"I finally made my mind up to become whole," said Sammy Butler, 56, of Los Angeles, who was invited to the church a year ago by a friend and stayed because he liked it so much.

About 50 people watched as the Rev. Randy Fox lowered Butler into the water. As Butler emerged, beaming, those around him clapped. "It was just something I had to do," he said as he dried off.

Across town at the Hollywood Bowl, the Rev. Enock De Assis of Bel Air Presbyterian Church watched thousands of people stream into the church's second Easter service of the morning, where he delivered the pastoral prayer (an earlier sunrise service featured actress Tippi Hedren).

"At a time of so many struggles in the world, this service will be a time of peace and love, a time of prayer and inclusion," De Assis said in an interview. "People who come today, I think, will feel a sense of hope, that God will challenge them to go forward and live a life of hope in the world."

Those at the beach in Pacific Palisades said they felt energized by a similar message.

With the sun rising behind him and dolphins skimming the shore, Bredberg stripped down to a wetsuit and invited the faithful to be baptized in the ocean, an Easter custom in many Christian churches.

Among the handful of people who responded was Bredberg's granddaughter, Cloe Lane, 15, of West Los Angeles. Her mother, Tracey Lane, 40, was baptized at the beach 25 years ago, but Cloe said she had hesitated to do it, worried the water would be too cold and the setting less spontaneous and private than she had hoped.

Wearing a wetsuit and a pink ribbon in her hair, however, she took her grandfather by the hand and walked straight into the surf, where he dunked her underwater. She emerged, baptized. Those watching from shore clapped and cheered, snapping photos.

"This is one thing that I can do that's going to last," Cloe said as she wrapped herself in a striped towel. "I can go to high school and college, but baptism will last forever."

Shivering next to her mother, Cloe pointed out a few dolphins passing close to shore.

"It's going to be a beautiful day," her mother said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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