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Sunrise service reinstated at Harper Cemetery

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Apr 9, 2021

John Unger leads a sunrise service in Harper Cemetery in Harpers Ferry on Sunday morning, a return to normal Easter Sunday practices following a year of COVID-19. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY — Following a break with tradition due to the COVID-19 Pandemic last spring, members of churches in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar once again made the journey to Harper Cemetery on Easter Sunday morning this year for a sunrise service.

Nearly 100 individuals, many of whom are members of three churches in the town — St. John Lutheran Church, Camp Hill Wesley United Methodist Church and St. John Episcopal Church — gathered to worship as they waited for the first rays of sunlight.

“It was a glorious worship service in a spiritually uplifting location,” said Pastor John Unger, who led the morning’s event, highlighting the beauty of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers visible from the hillside of the cemetery.

Despite clouds that blanketed the sky, the morning view of the rivers through the trees remained a thing of beauty to those in attendance.

“In the past year, we have gone through darkness — experienced isolation, loneliness, illness and even death,” Unger said in his sermon. “But, today, we see the light of hope and resiliency in the risen Christ and celebrate the resurrection and the gift of life, everlasting eternal life.”

Those gathered practiced social distancing, with most individuals wearing masks as a precautionary measure. The group chose not to sing the traditional Easter hymns. Instead, Unger read aloud the words to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” urging attendees to listen to the familiar words, which are so often sung from rote memory without concentration on their meaning.

Following the reading of the words, one attendee played the well-known hymn on a harmonica, prior to the dismissal of the congregation.

Unger expressed his hope the Easter Sunday service signified the start of a new beginning and a step ahead from the past year, when parishioners had not been able to gather for worship or other activities. Precautions will continue to be taken, however, to ensure the safety of all those who call the churches of Harpers Ferry their home.