Sunrise of faith: Annual service at Wayne Memorial Park
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 8, 2012 1:50 AM
The sun rises behind a cross in the yard of a Wayne County church. For generations, Christians h ave greeted Easter morning with a sense of renewal and rebirth, based on the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the grave following his crucifixion. Many churches hold sunrise services on Easter morning.
Ask anyone who has ever been to a sunrise service on Easter morning their impressions and you will likely hear descriptions of cool, crisp and dark dawns that give way to bursts of warmth as the sun peeks through and ushers in the day.
"We always started while it was very drab. It was light just a little bit, but it was always perfect," recalls Pat Shumate Faulk Batten. "As we sang, the sun would come up behind the trees."
She grew up in Goldsboro and her family attended First Baptist Church. She said she remembers riding with her parents to one of the area's few, at the time, Easter sunrise services -- first at Cliffs of the Neuse then at Wayne Memorial Park, where her family-owned business, Shumate-Faulk Funeral Home, is now located.
"I have memories of the platform, a large platform, a choir could actually stand up there, several ministers would speak. It was a glorious time," she said. "It was nothing like a sermon -- the ministers who stood up would just say a few words.
"And when you stood, facing the fountain looking east across the trees, there was a cross that had lightbulbs -- they had lightbulbs and had the cross lit up with individual bulbs. The sun always came up over that cross in the trees."
The annual event was a staple for the community, back in the day before individual churches held their own.
Mrs. Batten said she can trace it back as far as the 1940s.
"My first memories, Carlton Reid began the cemetery in the '40s, like 1947, 1948," she said. "He was my grandmother Shumate's cousin.
"I know that in the '50s we had Easter sunrise services because I was in high school. I do remember driving there when I was 15, in 1957."
Even then, it was a sight to behold, she said.
"It was amazing because in the '50s, even that early in the morning, there would be quite a bit of traffic, and it was only two lanes near the fairgrounds," she said. "It generally was held near the circle in the middle (of the cemetery). They would put a platform over the fountain section and the people parked in the circle. People would park and sit in their cars.
"There were great throngs of people. This was a new thing. Every church didn't have one. It was a high time for people on Easter."
She said she doesn't know how the services were organized, but credits Reid with being "community-oriented" and crowds turning out in droves each year.
"It was just a beautiful sight," she said. "I was just a child. I was just glad to be there."
Reid is now deceased but his daughter, Virginia Platts, lives in Surf City.
She welcomed the chance to reminisce about growing up in Goldsboro. And while she may have only been a child, the fond feelings of those Easter services still linger.
"It certainly is a walk down Memory Lane," she said. "It was always what we did."
She said the yearly service probably began when the cemetery first opened.
"I think my father started it in 1949. I believe it was the latter part of 1949," she said. "My father was Moravian and so of course this is something that the Moravians do. He was from Winston-Salem and all of his life, he'd come to the cemetery for sunrise services.
"I remember the high school band used to play and I believe the high school glee club, the Goldsboro High School glee club, sang."
It started out slowly, she noted, but "grew and grew" with the added support of several area churches.
"We share service leadership with five churches and we're always trying to expand," said Rev. Terry Hobbs, now pastor at Providence United Methodist Church, who is tasked with coordinating this year's service.
Others rotating choir and speaking duties have included Falling Creek and Brogden United Methodist churches, Love Memorial Baptist Church and Mays Chapel Free Will Baptist Church. The same group of churches, as well as Falling Creek Baptist Church, also come together for an annual community Thanksgiving service.
Board of Education member Rick Pridgen, who now works with Shumate-Faulk, also sang at the sunrise service several times.
"We moved here in 1967 and probably my first experience singing was in the early '70s out here," he said. "It was a big thing. There were 400 or 500 people to show up.
"Now, so many different people do them. This was the thing when we first came to Goldsboro in 1967. We heard about it and my family came out here. It was a tradition for us. We came probably every year."
Carlton Frederick, owner of Frederick's Music and member of the Frederick Brothers gospel singing group, also boasts many memories of those early years. He said the service was aided by the formation of Wayne Ministerial Association, supported by churches in and around Goldsboro and Wayne County.
"There were different sunrise services scattered around probably in the '50s. The Wayne Ministerial Association came and asked me to come in and handle music," he said. "I would direct everybody in hymns and then have somebody do special music. At that time I was directing a choir at Madison Avenue Baptist Church."
Frederick organized a group of male singers, about 30 of them, he said, called the Men of Madison. They would typically sing an Easter song or two and lead the crowd in congregational singing. Or a quartet or the Frederick Brothers might provide some Easter music, he said.
"That was the very beginning of it and that went on for several years," he said. "Of course, the event itself, in the beginning, was at the Cliffs of the Neuse and then later on moved to Wayne Memorial Park because it was more convenient for people to get there and so forth."
Jerry Hinnant of Goldsboro was part of Men of Madison, joining in 1964 until the group later dissolved.
He called the annual sunrise service "the highlight of the year."
As with any outdoor event, though, there could always be complications.
"The problem was sometimes it looked rainy -- only once or twice it really poured down and we had to cover (the piano)," he said.
Getting the instrument to the cemetery was also a challenge few might have considered.
"I would get a piano from the store," he explained. "Once or twice I loaded it on the truck and took it to my house overnight.
"Or I had to get up really early and get a piano out there. I had to get my men or my sons to get to the store early and get a piano loaded. For years I would have some of my delivery people to meet me at my store early Easter Sunday morning and we would carry a piano out to the sunrise service and after it was over, they would bring it back to my store."
But it was worth every bit of effort, Frederick said. The services were always splendid and remain "memorable, blessed events."
"It was not Baptist or Methodist or Episcopal or Pentecostal, no one name," he said. "It was all churches, all Christians celebrating Easter. I just happened to be the one that was called on to lead the music.
"I still go somewhere (for the service) but I'm very thankful, I'm glad that we had that time of ministry and the good times on Easter."
And while the offerings may have expanded to other locations and other venues, Wayne Memorial Park continues to host a sunrise service on the grounds Easter morning.
And, in keeping with tradition, faithful from all over the county were expected to gather again this morning -- to celebrate Easter and to share in prayer and worship together, making even more memories that will continue for generations.