Each year thousands of worshippers make the pilgrimage to Stone Mountain Park for the annual Easter Sunrise Service celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian tradition began on a much smaller scale 75 years ago when Lucille Lanford, a member of Stone Mountain United Methodist Church led a group of church youth to the top of the mountain to worship. It was April 9, 1944, and among the young people from Ms. Lanford’s United Methodist Youth Fellowship group that morning was Barbara Spivey, then Barbara Arrington, a ninth-grader at Stone Mountain High School.
A lifelong member of Stone Mountain United Methodist Church, Mrs. Spivey, 88, who lived on Main Street “In the third house up from the lumber yard” she said. “We met before sunrise. It was cold and it was real windy on top. By the time we got to the top you could hardly stand up.” She recalled the wind was so strong the girl’s scarves were blowing off their heads. “Some of the boys looked around and found a place where we could be shielded from the wind. That’s where we had our service, a little bit down from the top,” she said.
Mrs. Spivey said the minister lead the service and one of the men who came along brought a musical instrument. “We sang some songs, we had typed out the words to songs pertaining to Easter, ‘He Arose’ I’m sure was one of them, and we had Scripture.” When the group returned a hot breakfast prepared by ladies from the church was waiting for them. When other church youth groups heard about their experience they wanted to go too. Each year more people came. “It grew and grew and grew until they finally had to discontinue the breakfast. The crowds got so big they couldn’t prepare enough food,” said Mrs. Spivey.
“I went every year up until after I had married.” She said, “I was expecting a baby the day after Easter, so I didn’t think I ought to make the trip.”
She continued to make the climb with her 3 children but later on opted to take the sky lift to the top. “I didn’t like the idea of riding it but now that I have done it so many times it’s OK.”
“When you’re on top of the mountain you feel closer to God. There’s something special about being up there when the sun rose and thinking about Jesus dying on the cross and rising that he would do that for us.” You can find out about this years Easter Sunrise Service, April 21 by visiting: www.stonemountainpark.com/Events/Easter-Sunrise-Service
– Story and photo: Dean Hesse