Family continues Easter tradition

April 05, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • The Rev. Karen Erskine-Valentine, pastor of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg, speaks on "Easter Eyes" for the Sharpsburg-area sunrise service Sunday.
By Kelley Hahn Johnson/Staff Photographer,

Slide show:

Easter sunrise service at Antietam battlefield

SHARPSBURG -- Bill Poffenberger remembers standing on Cannon Hill near Sharpsburg at sunrise one Easter as a child, "freezing my buns off."

"We've stood in the snow and the rain and all that good stuff, but I don't dwell on that too much," said Poffenberger, 76, who lives north of Sharpsburg.

The Sharpsburg-area sunrise Easter service that became a tradition was started in 1946 by several people, including Poffenberger's father.

Poffenberger, who attends Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, took over his father's role in organizing the annual service after his dad died in 1960. The service has been held at the visitors center at Antietam National Battlefield since the early 1950s.

"My wife and I have six children. I went to that church all my life. I think that's the least you can do for the day," Poffenberger said.

Poffenberger said 130 people attended Sunday's Easter sunrise service, the most people to attend the service yet. The service raised $450 for South County Food Bank, which is based at Trinity Lutheran Church in Boonsboro, he said.


Kathy Gustafson, 42, of Halfway, was one of the people who attended the Easter service. She has sung at the service since she was 7 or 8, but wasn't able to on Sunday due to a sore throat.

"It's a beautiful service, especially when the sun comes out," Gustafson said last week.

The tradition also includes a sermon. Pastors from the local churches take turns giving the sermon. This year it was the turn of the Rev. Karen Erskine-Valentine with Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church. The other churches involved in the service Sunday were Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and Sharpsburg Church of the Brethren, Bill Poffenberger said.

Poffenberger said the Sharpsburg-area Easter sunrise service tradition began after the local churches got together to support a new Boy Scout Troop.

In 1946, Grafton Smith started Boy Scout Troop 51, which from time to time needed money so he went to the churches in town for help, Poffenberger said.

Poffenberger was in that troop from the age of 12 until 21, when he was a Scoutmaster.

Ron Otto, Ted Hebb, Harry Holmes, Albert Bowers and Henry Poffenberger started the service, which involved five local churches -- Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Sharpsburg Church of the Brethren, Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church and Sharpsburg Church of God.

The men decided that if they were able to help start a troop, they ought to be able to start a sunrise service, Poffenberger said.

In 1960, Bill Poffenberger and Ted Otto took over organizing the service as both their fathers had died.

"We weren't going to let it stop," Poffenberger said. At the time there were about four churches involved, including Tolson's Chapel.

The service was moved inside the observation room in the battlefield's visitor's center in 1965. The room has three walls of windows, letting the sunlight pour in as the sun rises over the mountain.

Ted Otto died about 10 years ago, leaving Poffenberger to continue the Easter tradition.

"I'm not going to let it go away," said Poffenberger, who provides the coffee at the service.

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