Eagle County ministers preparing for Easter Services | VailDaily.com

Eagle County ministers preparing for Easter Services

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – When Father Brooks Keith was new to the valley, he was excited enough to conduct a sunrise service on Vail Mountain Easter morning. But no one told him about the crowds.

“There were 700 or 800 people up there,” Keith said. “It was a great surprise – it was the largest group I’d ever preached to at that point.”

This year, sunrise services at Vail and Beaver Creek are expected to draw well more than 1,000 people. Most take chairlifts or gondola cars in the predawn blackness. Others snowshoe up the hill for the occasion. And, Keith said, many drive up from Denver or fly in from who knows where just for the occasion.

Easter is perhaps the biggest day on the Christian calendar, the day believers celebrate the resurrection of the crucified Christ, and his promise of spiritual rebirth and eternal life. It’s the oldest Christian celebration, and, arguably, the most joyous. At Vail, it’s a chance for ministers from the local Catholic, Baptist and Episcopal churches to spread that message together.

Easter’s theme of rebirth and new life plays out often at the mountaintop services, Keith said.

“There have been reconciled marriages, and tremendous gifts of generosity to Vail Valley Cares,” Keith said.

That local charity receives money from the offering baskets at the services at both Vail and Beaver Creek, and Keith said those services have been a boon for Vail Valley Cares’ mission of helping local families.

A few years ago, the collection baskets were left at the chapel, so those conducting the service ended up using a couple of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets. People liked the idea, and chicken buckets were used to collect the offering for years after that first time.

Another year, all the programs and songsheets were left in the valley, for the afternoon mountaintop services. Keith and pastor Jerry Milsaps, then minister of a local Baptist church, basically had to fly without their texts.

Milsaps, who was legally blind, did several readings from memory.

“It was incredible,” Keith said.

Pastor Scott Beebe of Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church will conduct the sunrise service at Beaver Creek this year, along with Presbyterian minister Tim Wilbank.

Beebe said his first mountaintop service was one of his favorite Easter Sundays. He was up early, of course, and rode up to Spruce Saddle alone, in the cold. Through that darkness was a light from the window in the ski patrol shack at the top of the mountain cheered him.

“That light in the darkness – what a picture of Easter,” Beebe said. “From the darkness of Good Friday into the light of Easter. I was going back into the darkness, but with the promise of the light.”

The services at Beaver Creek draw somewhere between 400 and 500 people every year. At the end of the service, people go outside, often into the rising sun with a view of the Mount of the Holy Cross, and listen to Helmut Fricker play “Amazing Grace,” on his alphorn.

Easter’s story and its songs are familiar to just about all Christians, but Beebe said there’s something special about the mountaintop services.

“It’s such an old world experience here in the new world,” Beebe said.

Easter Sunday in Red Cliff will share the story and its hymns, but in a dramatically different way.

Gail and Bill Britt started holding monthly services at the old church in Red Cliff just before Christmas of last year. Over the winter, the services and Sunday school lessons have attracted a gradually growing group. Now, after sharing the story of Jesus’ birth in December, Gail Britt is eager to share the story of his resurrection in the spring.

Growing the little, 19th century-vintage church is a bit like the rebirth of the Easter story, Gail Britt said. Both are a bit like seeds, which have to destroy themselves to bring new life into the world.

“This church has been dormant for a while,” Britt said. “It needs cultivation before the seed can burst out of the void.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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