In Sacramento area, you can celebrate Easter at the lake, the river – even the mall

For those who don’t want to sit in a pew to attend Easter Sunday services, there are options along the American River, at Folsom Lake and in the parking lot at the Roseville Galleria.

The Bayside Church of Granite Bay gathering outside the mall is expected to draw 4,000 to 5,000 worshiping Christians to services at 9 and 11 a.m. The services will be held in an outdoor stadium formerly set up for Capitals tennis team matches in the Nordstrom parking lot.

Mark Miller, spokesman for Bayside, said one side of the stadium will hold a stage. And, where a tennis court was usually situated in the middle, will be floor seating.

“The motivation behind this is to make the services community friendly,” Miller said. “People may be intimidated going to church, but they are obviously more comfortable going to a mall.”

The sermon will be delivered by the Rev. Francis Chan, who is also a speaker and writer. In addition, performance artist David Garibaldi will paint one of his signature large portraits, and the music will be led by recording artist Lincoln Brewster, a Bayside worship leader.

The gathering also will be an opportunity for people to hear about the church’s Serve Day in May, a program in which volunteers paint, clean and perform other tasks for thousands of people in need in the greater Sacramento area.

Other churches are rising before dawn to worship outdoors. “The American Book of Days” notes that in the early 1900s, Protestant churches began to adopt the custom of Catholic churches by holding sunrise services on Easter in commemoration of the Resurrection.

“There is a traditional belief that on Easter morning the sun dances and that those who rise in time can see it,” the book states. “A custom has arisen of holding a religious service on a mountaintop to watch for the rising sun.”

For many years, Fremont Presbyterian Church has welcomed Easter just over the levee at Glenn Hall Park in Sacramento’s River Park neighborhood. There, on the tall grass, not far from the very low American River, church members will welcome all worshipers and their dogs for a relaxed service.

“It’s not a very long service,” said the Rev. Dan Willson. “It happens at 6:30 a.m. You bring your own lawn chair or blanket. We open with a song, invite the kids to come up. There’s a big wooden cross decorated with fresh flowers by the children.”

Songs are performed, Willson preaches a bit and the service closes with another song. The ceremony occurs as the sun rises.

“I love preaching outdoors,” Willson said. “It doesn’t get any better. Some people are not comfortable in a church. We can really just be people, and I can share the good news.”

Folsom Lake has been the venue for outdoor Easter sunrise services for decades. For about the last 20 years, the tradition has been carried on by the Williams family.

Sharon and Jim “Digger” Williams will be at Beals Point again this year with their extended family for the 6:30 a.m. services. There is no entrance fee or parking charge.

“We usually have 135 people,” Digger Williams said. “It’s the Easter message about the empty tomb. That means that Christ rose and is living again. If you believe that, he will stay with you the rest of your life.”

The Easter message will be delivered by Nancy Atchley, founder of Powerhouse Ministries in Folsom.

For Roman Catholics, the focus of many will be indoors at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament downtown. Three bishops will separately celebrate Easter Masses. Bishop Emeritus William K. Weigand celebrates the Mass at 7:30 a.m., Bishop Jaime Soto at 9 a.m. and Auxiliary Bishop Myron J. Cotta at 11 a.m.

Later services will be held at the cathedral in Spanish and Chinese.

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