Irene Berry receives 2020 Salt and Light Award for reconvening Easter sunrise services

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Irene Berry received the Salt and Light Award recently for her role in restarting sunrise services on Easter.

FARMINGTON – Irene Berry, a member of the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry, was presented with the Salt and Light Award last month for 40 years of organizing the Easter sunrise service.

Historically, the Salt and Light Award is given annually by FAEM to someone who exemplifies the qualities and duties described in Matthew 5:13-16 from the Bible.

The Easter sunrise service that led to Berry’s recognition was born of a request from a community member to recreate a service that used to take place in the Franklin County several years before. Trumpets would sound and attendees would brave the early spring cold to worship at dawn. But by 1977, an Easter sunrise service in the area held outside at dawn was unheard of. Services were held indoors at 8 or 9 a.m. Berry agreed to organize a traditional dawn service with only two conditions.

“It had to be on Voter Hill at dawn because I had small children at the time and they needed to be outside, and it had to be a service of praise only. No scolding aloud,” Berry said.

She acted as “the point person” but the Easter Service was “truly a project of so many.” She and several other committee members contacted the surrounding congregations, eventually garnering the involvement of seven churches. Each of them contributed poems, hymns, scripture, one year a church even brought its own choir and sung an anthem. The committee arranged the contributions into a bulletin to be followed for the service each year.

The Easter sunrise service was unique not just in its longevity, but for its emphasis on community. There would be no one leading the half-hour service, a tradition that has remained in place despite the occasional question from visiting pastors: “How can you have a service with no leader?”

Programs from Easter services over the years.

“Somehow or other it worked. It’s truly remarkable that it just went on,” said Berry when asked about how the “ad-hoc group” has managed to continue successfully for so long. Though the service has suffered in recent years, attendance dropping from its original 100 worshipers to around 50 in the last year, Berry believes that the service’s continuation is a sign of the commitment of the members who have been working with her to organize the service over the years.

Upon receiving the Salt and Light Award, Berry acknowledged that she was honored but was quick to qualify.

“I didn’t think about doing it every year,” she said. “Time just went by. I didn’t think I would get anything out of it. I just did it anyway and I think that anyone that participated in the organization of the Easter service thinks the same.”

From the 1978 service.

This year’s Easter service was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Berry hopes that next year worshipers will gather again “to sing Acapella in the cold.” The service has persisted through rainstorms that left hymn booklets unreadable, through layers of snow that chilled attendees’ feet; she believes it will survive the pandemic as well.

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