There are many sunrise Easter services in Southern California, including those held in Riverside, Los Angeles, and Idyllwild, but only Palm Springs has been celebrating it on a golf course continuously for the past 100 years.
Former Palm Springs Mayor William Kleindienst was asked by a member of the Our Savior Lutheran Church in Palm Springs to give this 100th anniversary celebration April 16 its proper attention. Kleindienst has been a local historian and speaker since leaving political office in 2003.
“There are not many events anywhere that are 100 years old,” Kleindienst says as he zips his golf cart around to the No. 4 fairway on the O’Donnell Golf Course, where the Christian service has been held since 1917. There were three locations on the golf course where the Sunrise Easter Service was held over the years.
“The first Sunrise Easter service was started by Nellie Coffman and held behind the Desert Inn. Parishioners were positioned on the hill above the hotel,” says Kleindienst, who will be speaking on the historical perspective before the religious service begins this year.
Kleindinst says Coffman was a contemporary of Frank Augustus Miller, owner and builder of the Mission Inn in Riverside. Miller’s Easter sunrise service started eight years earlier on Mt. Rubidoux, but none has kept the tradition going as long as Palm Springs.
From 1939-45, the Sunrise Service was held at the Promenade, a natural stone balcony that towers above the golf course. The pastor and musicians were stationed above on the Promenade, while the attendees listened below.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The Sunrise Easter Service has had three locations since its start in 1917, including the Promenade, a natural stone balcony that towers above the golf course.
The third and final location is now at the No. 4 fairway, where the pastor, musicians, and attendees are all close. The first services, held by the Palm Springs Community Church, attracted 200 attendees. There were as many as 2,000 attendees and other congregations hosting the event in between. About 15 years ago, Our Savior Lutheran Church took over the Easter tradition, says Heather Stanley, worship leader and music director.
“We are so glad to be part of this 100-year tradition,” says Stanley, who has been helping coordinate the event for the past five years. “Every year it’s different.
Our Savior has been without a senior pastor for the past three years, but just in time, they are welcoming Rob Goodwin from Nenomee Falls, Wisconsin, for this event.
“His message will talk about new beginnings, like we are starting with a new leader. He’ll encourage everyone to step out on faith and trust in God,” says Stanley.
VIDEO: William Kleindienst speaks about the history of the Sunrise Easter Service from the O’Donnell Golf Course. (Photograph courtesy of the Palm Springs Historical Society).
On Easter Sunday, before dawn breaks, Stanley and other parishioners from Our Savior will be setting up the sound system, podium, and band on the fairway.
“It’s dark at 4 a.m. when we get there, but we have big flood lights and hopefully we’ll put things in the right places,” Stanley says. Her musical ensemble includes a piano, two guitars, a bass and drums.
When people first arrive between 5 and 5:45 a.m., they are usually bundled up because of the morning chill and are pretty quiet, says Stanley.
“For most, it’s the first time they’ve set foot on the O’Donnell Golf Course,” she says. “They look around at the beautiful setting in the dark, at the palm trees and the mountains, and listen to the birds chirping and the wind blowing. But by 5:45 a.m. when the service starts, and light breaks, they are more comfortable and are chatting among themselves.”
Stanley says people are welcome to bring coffee and cocoa to take the chill off, but they don’t encourage picnics because of the limited trash pick-up.
“Everyone is welcome to attend a free breakfast afterwards at Our Savior, which is about a minute’s drive,” she says.
To call forth the spirit of praise, Donnell Jones from Ohav Shalom Messianic Temple in Palm Springs will blow the shafar, or ram’s horn, symbolic in the Jewish faith. It sounds like a wooden horn.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PALM SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
From the Promenade complete with a public address system, the Sunrise Easter Service was conducted.
“It’ll get your attention because it’s loud, “ Stanley says.
During the service, there will be songs and a message of faith from Pastor Goodwin. At the end, there will be a blessing of the people and for Palm Springs.
Gates open at 5:30 a.m. and there is street parking along the golf course and behind Temple Isaiah, 322 W. Alejo Road, which is nearby. Bring chairs and blankets for the hour-long service that will likely attract 500 or more attendees.
100th Easter Sunrise Service, 5:45 a.m. April 16, O’Donnell Golf Course, 301 N. Belardo Road, Palm Springs; www.odonnellgolfclub.com