By Michael J. ARVIZU
It was still dark as people lined up at the corner of Hillhaven Avenue and Foothill Boulevard on an otherwise quiet Easter Sunday morning to hitch a short ride up to the peak of Mt. McGroarty in Tujunga for the 88th annual Sunland-Tujunga Community Easter Sunrise Service.
Hosted by the Verdugo Hills Ecumenical Assn., the nondenominational service is held at dawn every Easter at the site of what is locally known as the McGroarty Peak cross – a 20-foot tall, white, weathered landmark made out of stone that is kept illuminated at night by high-powered lights.
Erected by California writer John Steven McGroarty in 1923, the cross is known historically as the Cross of San Ysidro, because it actually sits on Mt. San Ysidro in the Verdugo Mountains. Getting to the cross requires about an hour or so hike on a fire road that snakes its way through the hills behind Tujunga. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with a 360-degree view of the streets below.
Worshippers on Sunday did not have to hike, however, as they were able to board one of three shuttles provided by the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA to take them to the top.
For many locals, it has become a yearly tradition to make the trek up to the peak every Easter.
“We try to make it our every year,” said Tujunga resident Randy Roberts, who attended the service with his family and worships at The Hub Community in Sunland. “It’s been sort of a family tradition to walk down the hill after the service.”
Seeing the sun “popping,” he said, up and over the San Gabriel Mountains to the east while standing on the peak is akin to Jesus’ resurrection.
The service draws worshippers from many of the local churches in and around the communities of Sunland and Tujunga. And many of the local pastors are invited to give benedictions, prayers, and share a Bible passage. Members of the New Hope Community Church Tapestry Worship Band provided the music.
“If Christ had not risen from the dead, what good would anything be?” asked Ron Storebo, pastor of Open Bible Church in Tujunga, during his morning message.
“The sun rises,” Storebo continued. “Have you seen his beauty?”
Worshippers loudly responded in the affirmative.
Although Sunday’s forecast called for scattered showers, a few sprinkles here and there did not put a damper on the festive atmosphere.
“I see people from all different churches in the area,” said Sunland resident Anne Vale, a member of Open Bible Church. “The sunrise service is good, even for people who don’t go to church at all.”
Sunland resident and Community Christian Church of the Foothills member Jim Hoggatt woke up at 2 a.m. Sunday to serve coffee and donuts to the roughly 300 people who attended the service.
“It’s a nice way to serve God, and it’s a nice way to see old friends that you don’t get to see at all,” he said.
Jimmy Halperin, 19, a youth pastor at Verdugo Hills Foursquare Church in Tujunga, attended his first sunrise service at the peak in 2012. On Sunday, he served coffee and donuts alongside Hoggatt.