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Easter sunrise: St. James Episcopal Parish worships atop tower

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As the sun rises on easter Sunday, members of St. James Episcopal Parish in Wilmington worship, recognizing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

But this is not your typical Sunday service. Church goers worship on the top of the sanctuary’s tower. Reverend Craig Phillip explains the practice is a long-standing tradition.  

“I know for many people, that this particular tradition dates back many many generations. Where families would gather, young and old, and climb the steps,” he said. 

But you might be wondering, how do they get up there? 

“It’s not an easy climb all the way to the top of our tower,” Rev. Phillip added. 

Members climb the centuries-old tower by squeezing through a narrow passage. then braving the wooden stairs all the way to the top. They emerge to a birds-eye view of downtown Wilmington, facing east as the sun emerges from the horizon.  

“We remember than on the very first sunrise of the morning, women came to the tomb where Jesus had been laid expecting to find a dead body, and instead discovering something completely different, that the tomb was empty, and that Jesus was risen from the dead,” Rev. Phillip said. 

The tradition dates back to 1866, when Reverend Alfred Augustin Watson led a group of children to the top of the tower for a short service of payer and song. Centuries later, the tradition remains.  

“We have an understanding that we have inherited this beautiful place and tradition from literally generations and centuries of people that have gone before us,” Rev. Phillip said. 

Tom Hackler has been attending St. James for nearly four decades. He said that members of the church are like family.  

“We have a church family here, and we really do sense the meaning of God within our church family,” he said. 

As a longtime member, Hackler said he has attended several sunrise services over the years, and the symbolism behind the service is what makes it so impactful.  

“I think sunrise service is really meaningful as a Christian, because I think you sense the new day of Jesus coming,” he said. 

“There is no deeper image I think in our hearts and our minds than that of light emerging from darkness and overcoming darkness,” Rev. Phillip added. 



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