‘Truly saddened’: Jamestown Island’s long-running Easter Sunrise Service abruptly canceled for 2023

One of the longest continually-running sunrise services in the nation will not take place on Easter this year.
A crowd gathers on Jamestown Island to attend one of the nation’s longest-running Easter sunrise services on April 17, 2022. (The Triangle)

One of the longest continually-running sunrise services in the nation will not take place on Easter this year.

The Easter Sunrise Service on Jamestown Island – which has been held at the foot of the cross there for more than 65 years – has been canceled for 2023, according to organizers.

The news comes just months after the National Park Service (NPS) installed new kiosks throughout Colonial National Historical Park prompting visitors to pay a fee. Park-goers are directed to scan the QR code on the kiosk to purchase a daily pass for $15 or pay $45 for an annual pass.

An NPS representative told The Triangle the fee does not apply to those traveling on the parkway strictly for commuting purposes. However, anyone using the park for “recreational” reasons is now required to pay, the representative confirmed.

The very first Christian services in America were held beneath a piece of sailcloth attached to trees within Jamestown Fort, according to the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. By 1608, settlers began worshipping in a physical church structure built with large posts and mud and stud walls. The site of this first English church was discovered in 2010 by Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists. 

Today, Historic Jamestowne, including the James Fort Site, is jointly operated by the NPS and Preservation Virginia, a privately-funded, statewide historic preservation organization. 

It was not immediately clear if the park’s new policies impacted the cancellation of the 2023 Easter Sunrise service. In a March 21 social media post, organizers of the service said they were “still working on the details and permissions” needed to hold the service and were hoping to receive a “green light” soon.

New NPS fee signs at Colonial National Historical Park prompt visitors to pay for a “valid entrance pass.” (The Triangle)

Since 1957, the Jamestown Island Easter Sunrise Service has been open to the community and free for all to attend. 

In a follow-up Facebook post published on April 6, organizers confirmed that the 2023 Easter service has been cancelled. They added that the event will likely need to be restructured in order for it to continue in the future.

“This Easter Service is organized by a small dedicated group of volunteers, in cooperation with the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. We have been hosting this service for many years and working behind the scenes to bring all of the factors together,” organizers wrote on their Facebook page. “Unfortunately, this year things did not line up as they have in years past… We will likely have to restructure the event in order to continue in 2024.”

Many commenters expressed disappointment, and some speculated that the NPS’s policies were the reason for the cancellation.

“Was the NPS unwilling to allow this service to be held?” one person asked.

The Triangle reached out to both NPS and the service’s organizers for further comment but has not yet received a response.

“We are truly saddened by the event being cancelled, since it is our Easter tradition, too,” organizers wrote. “We are hopeful that next year, we will be able to gather together for Easter.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as new details become available.

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