Easter still packs the pews and, on AMI, sand on the beach

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Matt Nowicki, director of Family Faith Formation at St. Bernard Catholic Church, Holmes Beach, prepares for Holy Week. Nowicki will provide the scripture readings for the Easter Sunrise Service at the Manatee Public Beach, where all six island churches take part in the service. Islander Photo: Courtesy Cadillac News/Mardi Suhs
Mardi Suhs

By Mardi Suhs

Special to The Islander,

Courtesy of Cadillac News

Sunday is Easter, a day when churches prepare for packed pews and the largest attendance of the year.

The phenomenon is known as CECG, a reference to Christmas and Easter churchgoers who faithfully attend twice a year.

In Holmes Beach, St. Bernard Catholic Church opens the parish hall to an additional 600 people and a standing-room-only crowd.

“One year we had 1,500 people,” said Michigan native Matt Nowicki, director of the Family Faith Formation at St. Bernard. “People were lined up outside the doors and surrounding the church so we added a mass in the hall.”

At the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach, the Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island expects “thousands” of people to attend its 54th annual sunrise service.

“This is an amazing Easter Sunday morning,” said service organizer for the island Kiwanis, John Chappie. He also is mayor of Bradenton Beach. “The sun is rising in the east and there are several thousand people on the beach. It is a wonderful, glorious event. It’s about God and the resurrection. It’s about our community coming together in prayer and celebration.”

“All the churches on the island come together in an ecumenical service on the holiest day when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ,” said the Rev. Rosemary Backer of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Holmes Beach. “It’s all about the empty tomb and the resurrection. People attend that are not into church and there are also many churchgoers. This service gives great hope that churches can be unified instead of divided.”

Why Easter is the biggest church day of the year

“Easter is always the highest attended Sunday of the year,” said the Rev. Dr. Bob O’Keef of Roser Memorial Community Church on Anna Maria Island. “People are drawn to the celebration of the resurrection, the foundation of our faith. They know that Easter is that wonderful celebration of the victory over death. They come once a year to reaffirm their faith.”

“Even though we live in a highly secularized society, there is still that desire for something more,” suggested Nowicki. “People attend on Easter to acknowledge that a significant event is being recalled. They realize in their hearts that we are celebrating something that has meaning that extends beyond time and space. The whole Christian message is, if He is risen, that changes everything.”

“We are a post-Christian nation,” added Chad Zaucha, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Cadillac, Michigan. “But one reason for high attendance is that Easter is the ultimate story of hope and we need hope to survive…. When Jesus rose from the dead, He proved there is hope in the most hopeless situation. Death, sin and hell were defeated.”

“Everyone is searching for that hope,” added the Rev. Dan Klotz, Resurrection Life Church, Cadillac. “Easter draws people seeking all the things the resurrection offers: hope, healing, restoration, and eternal life.”

The 54th Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island Easter Sunrise Service will begin at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 1 — sunrise is expected at 7:21 a.m. — at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.


Editor’s Note:  Mardi Suhs is a staff reporter for the Cadillac News in Northern Michigan. She is married to an Austrian born-chef and together they own and operate a restaurant and wine bar. In 1986, her parents invited them to spend a week with them on the island, where they vacationed every winter. As a former reporter for the Keynoter in the Florida Keys, we were fans of Florida’s west coast and almost declined. But we fell in love with AMI and have been back every year since. Her sister, Sue Carlson, is a long-time islander and owner of An Island Place Realty and Coastal Cottages.