Stories of RNS Photos: Scenic Easter Services | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Stories of RNS Photos: Scenic Easter Services

April 5, 2023

In 2019, with grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, PHS digitized nearly 500 images from the RNS photograph collection all of which are now viewable in Pearl. The photographs chosen for the project spanned various years, topic, faiths, and geographical locations, but all supported the Religious News Service’s mission to document twentieth century religious and ethical issues for a wider audience.


Easter is a holiday that welcomes in the arrival of Spring, and is celebrated by many. It has roots in both Christianity and ancient pagan culture--for the former, the day is dedicated to observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ; for the latter, it is a celebration of the spring equinox, a different kind of resurrection. 

The holiday typically falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox (this year, the first day of Spring was March 20). In Christian traditions, the period before Easter is recognized as Lent--a forty-day period of fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday. The week leading up to Easter is also often recognized as Holy Week, which includes: Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the "Last Supper", Good Friday, the day on which Christ's death is observed, and Easter Sunday. As Jesus’ arrest and execution were said to have occurred during the Jewish observance of Passover, the Easter holiday is often close to the former celebration on the Judeo-Christian calendar. 

Spring is officially in full bloom when Easter comes around each year, and many groups choose to hold their church services outdoors. This month, we're sharing images from Easter services that featured beautiful scenery. 

Sunrise services in Hollywood Bowl, 1954. [Pearl ID: 339482]. 

The caption for this photo tells us that, "Every year Hollywood Bowl is filled to capacity for Easter sunrise services." The Hollywood Bowl is an outdoor ampitheatre located in Los Angeles, California, that opened in July of 1922. In case you were wondering, the venue's capacity is a whopping 17,500 people. I wonder what was longer--the service itself, or the line of cars exiting the parking lot afterward!

Easter sunrise service, 1950. [Pearl ID: 339475].

Dressed for the chilly spring air, hundreds gathered at the open air aquacade amphitheater in Flushing, New York, for an Easter sunrise service in 1950. The ampitheater sits on the site of the 1939 New York World's Fair. 

Easter services on 'Mar's Hill,' 1954 [Pearl ID: 339478].

'Mar's Hill' is another name for the Rock of Areopagus in Athens, Greece. Areopagus, or Areios Pagos, means "Hill of Ares." Ares was the Greek god of war and courage who, according to myth, was tried on Areopagus by the other gods for the murder of Poseidon's son. Ares' Roman myth counterpart is Mars--hence the alternative naming of the Rock of Areopagus as 'Mar's Hill.'

This spot is also believed to be where St. Paul preached his famous address to the Athenians, found in Acts 17. Every year, parishioners of the American Church of St. Andrews in Athens attend Easter sunrise services on Mar's Hill. This photo shows the 1954 service being conducted by the Reverend Paul H.W. Olander, the then-pastor of St. Andrews. 

Easter morning service, 1951. [Pearl ID: 339476].

Have you been to the Atlantic City boardwalk? On a crisp late-March morning in 1951, a crowd of congregants flooded the pier in Atlantic City, N.J., to attend an Easter service. It was probably too cold to grab frozen custard post-service--but in a few more months, the boardwalk would be busy with beachgoers. 

Left: Easter services in national park, 1953 [Pearl ID: 339477]. Right: Easter song fest, 1956 [Pearl ID: 339483].

If you have visited Yosemite National Park in California, perhaps you recognize the beautiful scenery that served as the backdrop for these two Easter services. The photo on the left shows folks gathered for "resurrection day" in 1953 at "Mirror Lake" -- a fitting name for the reflective body of water. You can see how reflective the surface of the water is in both of these images! The second image, from 1956, is titled "Easter song fest," and the caption included a quote from Isaiah 65:14 (RSV): "My servants shall sing for gladness of heart."


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