A sunrise service to start the day

It hasn’t always been my practice to attend sunrise services on Easter morning at Richmond park, a place many of us “Richmonians” still refer to as “the old college campus.”

Yes, there was actually a college in Richmond that closed in 1903, and the two-story brick building that housed it in its final years was destroyed by wind in 1929, according to the 1776 bicentennial souvenir book on Richmond.

That’s your local history lesson for today.

If you’ve never been to Richmond Park, there is a main shelter house there, often a popular place for families to hold reunions in the summer, but on Easter, it’s the spot where the ecumenical sunrise service unfolds at 7 a.m., for the most part no matter what the weather is like.

Most every year I’ve gone there, the warmth from the crackling fireplace is a welcomed amenity considering the weather can be so unpredictable whether Easter falls on a Sunday in March or a Sunday in April.

There are no guarantees that you’ll sweat on Easter Sunday at the shelter house unless you choose the picnic bench seat too near the fire.

Last year, Ralph Blackburn had razzed me about my not-so-perfect proximity to it as one minute I was too close and too hot, the next just far enough away to catch a chill again.

What could have been the ravages of menopause was instead just my bad seat selection.

All this was before the service got under way as his brother Paul Blackburn tended the fire, a duty that had once involved my dad for many years when he had made attending the sunrise service part of his Easter tradition.

Ralph unexpectedly passed away the following month after that sunrise service of 2012.

I came across pictures I had taken before the service started, a couple of them of the Blackburn brothers.

On Easter Sundays, I can look around the shelter house and feel as comforted by the faces I see there as I am saddened by the ones that aren’t.

Juanita Riley.

Becky Jones.

Pastor John Hearn.

Ralph Blackburn.

My dad.

And many others.

The sunrise service at the shelter house is one time of the year I feel especially close to God, certain in my heart that the promise of eternal life and salvation through Christ’s death on the cross is something very, very real.

That amazing grace saved a wretch like me.

That my life here has purpose.

That the best is yet to come.

And that I’ll see the faces again of all my Easter sunrise service family.

I’m confident of that as we join voices and sing “He Lives,” as we’re witnesses to a rising sun, a new day and life anew.

Happy Easter.

(Kiaski, a resident of Steubenville, is a staff columnist and features writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and community editor for the Herald-Star. She can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)