A parking deck might not be the first place Atlanta Christians think of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. And yet, at 7 a.m. on Easter, some 250 followers, accompanied by a choir and brass quartet, will gather on the parking deck adjacent to North Avenue Presbyterian Church on Peachtree Street and give praise. This “urban sunrise Easter service,” as it is billed, began five years ago and is a marked contrast to the one that has been taking place for seven decades 16 miles east at the summit of Stone Mountain. The question is: Can you find God as easily on a parking deck as a mountaintop? “The bigger question is, ‘Can you find the Lord in the city?” asked The Rev. Scott Weimer, senior pastor of North Avenue Presbyterian Church. “We sure hope so. We want to connect people with the grace of God wherever they are — and where we are called to be.” For more on the urban sunrise service, go to napc.org.
Q: Whose idea was it to celebrate Easter on a parking deck?
A: It was my idea. We are always looking for fresh ways to reach our community. Many of us grew up with the tradition of a sunrise service. Typically, that was on a hill far away. We thought, “Is there a way to do it in our own context?”
Q: Can you talk more about that context?
A: We’ve been on the corner of North Avenue and Peachtree Street since 1898, as long as we have been in existence. Over the years, as people and churches left the neighborhood, our leadership and congregation felt we were called by God to be witnesses from that corner. We were once an old Southern church. Our recent growth in membership is 40 percent multi-ethnic and multi-national.
Q: What is so special about a sunrise service on Easter?
A: There is something really special about being in a sunrise service and reading the text about the women who came to the tomb at dawn.
Q: Your corner of the world is typically pretty busy. Is there a lot of traffic during your service?
A: Downtown is very quiet on Easter morning — it is pretty dramatic.
Q: Why the parking deck?
A: Our deck, which is technically two levels with entrances on Peachtree and Juniper streets, looks out to the east, toward Stone Mountain and the sunrise. To say the service is on a parking deck makes it sound not very alluring or exciting. But it is an outdoor area that is open to the sky. Some years, the weather is pleasant. Others it is cold or there is a heavy mist. You get that whether you are in the city or on a mountaintop.
Q: Are most of the people who show up for the sunrise service parishioners?
A: It is about half and half, which is great. We are trying to reach people that we normally don’t. There is a condominium highrise next to us. Since we have a brass quartet and a choir for the service, we had some concerns initially about being a good neighbor. There are people who join us from their balconies. We think that is great, too.
Q: This does not sound like a throwback, does it?
A: It isn’t and the service is evolving. We would eventually like to partner with another downtown church, maybe one with an African-American population and a gospel choir. That would be cool.
Q: You have three other Easter services — inside your church. Is the sunrise service your favorite?
A: I am really fortunate because I love what I do and I am paid to be at all of the services. I would hate to miss any of them.
The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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