BRADENTON -- A crowd estimated at 500 joined Hernando DeSoto Queen Haley Geraldson and her court at sunrise Sunday for a Resurrection celebration at the Mosaic Amphitheater on Riverwalk.
The 6:30 a.m. Easter sunrise service on the Manatee River, which had everything but sunshine, was one of a number of sunrise services at churches in Bradenton and all over Manatee County as people marked the holiday described in the New Testament as Jesus Christ's return from the dead after being buried at Calvary.
For Geraldson, the high point of the cloudy morning was hearing young men from the Loving Hands Men's Chorale sing out their love for Christ in the darkness. The men, all part of Wendall Wilson's Loving Hands Ministry, sang about hope, love and faith, Geraldson said.
"I know those boys have grown so much under Dr. Wilson and it showed," Geraldson said.
Geraldson attended the sunrise service despite being up all night Saturday out of concern for her uncle, Bradenton's Jim Stecher, who had burned his hand in an accident. Stecher's father is also Jim Stecher, leader of Bradenton's Love Joy Fellowship.
"Jim is going to be OK," Wendall Wilson told the crowd while asking for prayers for the younger Stecher.
The sunrise event was sponsored by the Manatee Ministries Association and Hernando DeSoto Historical Society.
First to arrive were Bradenton twins, Hailey and Jacob Clark, 12, of Sugg Middle School. They came with their father, Dave Clark, and Tiffa
ny Stripling of Bradenton.
The twins speculated on what the world might have been like had Jesus had a twin sister.
The crowd also heard a talented duo from Bradenton's Happy Gospel Center: bass guitarist Tim Owens and keyboardist Jamar King .
King, who teaches percussion at Southeast High School and is praise and worship leader at Happy Gospel Center, warmed the chilly crowd by singing "Old Rugged Cross" and "O' The Blood."
"I'm a blessed man," said the smiling King as he graciously accepted compliments after the service. "It's pretty cool when God walks with you."
Owens and King can be found at 10 a.m. every Sunday at Bill Bailey's Happy Gospel Center, 1915 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton.
The Rev. Paul Scheele, chaplain of Water's Edge, also helped with warm the crowd with a selection of lively hymns.
Bradenton's Mary Woltz, born and raised in Bradenton, worked from 1979 to 2007 as school district cook at Manatee High School. She said she didn't have to be warmed up. Woltz came to the sunrise service on fire for Christ.
"This is a good way to start Easter," Woltz said. "It's solemn and the perfect location, down by the river."
"Jesus is with me all the time," Woltz added. "He is the guiding force in my life. Whenever I need peace, he is there. He will do that for you, too. He has that ability to give you peace because he is the one who did not die. Death could not claim him. So, we who believe in him don't have to fear and we can go in peace."
The message delivered by the Rev. Fidel Diaz of Tabernacle Bible Baptist Church was proclaimed remarkable by at least one listener.
"He is very good," said Varinka Perez, a member of Diaz's Spanish church. "He speaks to us of the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross."
In his conversational style, Diaz told the crowd how accepting Christ as a savior and never again having to fear for the future is easy, but it does take asking for "his hand" as a man would ask a woman to be his girlfriend and then literally ask for her hand from her parents.
"You show God respect by first asking for him to be in your life like you ask the girl you like to be your girlfriend," Diaz said. "You ask by accepting him into your heart. That is the step you must take out of respect for him. He won't come into your heart unless you ask. And if the girl says 'yes,' you grab her hand and kiss her you are so excited. With Jesus, he will say yes. There is never a doubt."