Easter sunrise service on Ocracoke, 2019.

Text and Photos by Peter Vankevich

Ocracoke has a tradition that the island’s two churches hold a joint Easter sunrise service on the beach. The aesthetics of a rising sun, rolling waves and listening to songs performed by Desiree Christa Ricker and Pastor Ivey Belch has been the perfect way for many to begin one of Christianity’s holiest days.

Before this year, both churches would then, later in the morning, hold traditional, in-house Easter celebrations at their respective locations — Lighthouse Road for the Live Saving Church and School Road for the Ocracoke United Methodist Church.

At the 2019 Easter Sunrise Service, Desiree Christa Ricker, sings. In back are pastors Richard Bryant and Ivey Belch.

The situation changed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide Stay-at-Home order. The community sunrise service will be in the Variety Store parking lot starting at 6:30 a.m. This will be the only Easter service by the two churches.

Variety Store proprietor Tommy Hutcherson was pleased to offer his parking lot for the service. The store doesn’t open until 8 a.m. The service will be over well before then. Folks can stay in their vehicles, a safe distance from others and listen to the service over public address speakers. Attendants will monitor the parking lot to ensure everyone complies with six-foot social distancing regulations.

Ocracoke’s Variety Store (in this 2019 photo) will be the site of this year’s Easter Sunrise Service Sunday at 6:30 a.m.

While the pandemic necessitated the change, Hurricane Dorian certainly had an impact. The early service has traditionally taken place at what locals call Lifeguard Beach, or the National Park Service Day Use Area, a little beyond the airport heading north. This area has the largest beach-access parking lot on the island. In years past, the lot has been full for the Easter service, with some even parking on N.C 12.

However, the parking area was commandeered after the Sept. 6 devastation to store the massive amounts of debris created by the hurricane, awaiting off-island hauling.

Although most debris has been been removed, the parking lot is still closed. In addition, the NPS is currently not issuing any permits for gatherings.

Although the island has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at this writing, the virus, nevertheless, has had a significant impact on Ocracoke. The island is closed to visitors and follows the state’s stay-at-home guidelines — which ban gatherings of more than 10 people and require social distancing at a minimum of six feet.

The two churches have come up with creative ways to safely serve the spiritual needs of their members. Pastors Belch, of the Life Saving Church, and Susie Fitch-Slater, of the Ocracoke United Methodist Church, began a Sunday “drive-in” service on March 22 at the Ocracoke School circle. This allowed folks to drive to the circle and listen to the service, while staying in their vehicles. That method will continue for the foreseeable future.

The Easter service (as well as weekly services) can be seen on the Kingdom on Ocracoke Facebook Live feed and on Pastor Susie’s personal Facebook page. People can text in a prayer request.

For Good Friday morning today (April 10) starting at 9 a.m. on these Facbook pages, different people will do a devotional for the hours Christ was on the cross.

Ocracoke’s community radio station, WOVV, will broadcast the service over 90.1 FM and online at wovv.rocks and via the Tune-in App by searching WOVV. Ocracoke Cable TV also carries WOVV audio on Channel 4.

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