- February 9, 2019
As the sun peaked out at the congregation behind billowing clouds, an acoustic band comprising barefooted Brad Yates and his colleagues welcomed the early risers attending the church’s ninth-anniversary celebration of their Sunrise Service on May 12.
“I’d like to thank the decorating committee for the gorgeous backdrop today,” said Yates, who founded the Sunrise Service for Salty Church alongside Cal Fisher on May 10, 2010.
Located at the Granada Beach Approach, the 7 a.m. service provides tourists and locals with a breathtaking view of the sunrise, accompanied by an acoustic worship session and message by Derrick Shirley.
Salty Church, founded by Robbie and Christine O’Brien in 2005, has locations in Ormond Beach, Flagler Beach and New Smyrna Beach.
O’Brien said that when the Sunrise Service started, the open, relaxed atmosphere aimed to attract “beach people,” like surfers and bikers.
“The beach is typically a great equalizer,” O’Brien said. “We don’t know who’s rich or poor, or sometimes, we don’t know who’s homeless or not. The beach is the one thing where there’s less ‘us versus them.’”
The past few weeks have attracted record attendance, according to O’Brien.
“Cal always said that attendance typically equals the temperature, so as it gets cold, the numbers go down,” he said. “Lately, we’ve been having a hundred people.”
For their ninth anniversary, they wrangled in 105.
Cal Fisher, who played on a sitting bongo drum during the worship portion of the service, helped found the Sunrise Service after talking to O’Brien about several churches' Easter Sunday sunrise services around the area. Salty Church had its own sunrise service that Easter Sunday and decided to give it a trial run for 90 days afterward.
“At the end of the 90 days, there were maybe 50 or 60 people coming and we said, ‘Hey, do you want to keep doing it? Let’s do it!’ and we did,” Fisher said. “And here we are, nine years later, still doing it.”
Shirley, the teaching pastor for the Sunrise Service, described the service’s congregation as beautiful, loving and caring. Fisher said it’s “like a big family.” Shirley even brought Hershey’s chocolate and flowers for the mothers attending.
Shirley noted that even though there are many regulars, vacationers staying in the timeshares nearby either hear the music for themselves coming from the approach or they hear about the service somewhere down A1A.
“Every Sunday morning is like Christmas,” said Yates, who feels that giving the congregation a worship service beachside is like giving a gift.
According to Yates, Salty Church provides services for displaced families, alongside their mission trip work in countries like Costa Rica or their work with the Christian Surfers organization.
Troy Kent, the Ormond Beach city commissioner for Zone 2, said in a phone call with the Ormond Beach Observer, “They’re really great neighbors to Ormond Beach. And, they’re expanding in our community.”
Salty Church has been approved to build an addition to its Ormond Beach location, which will take over the parking lot in the rear of its current building.
“We had a public hearing about it about a month ago, and there was no one that filled out a card to say anything negative about the church whatsoever,” Kent said.
O’Brien said the construction work will begin within the next few weeks.
“The beach is an identity," he said. "It’s a part of your blood and DNA, and when you pull the spiritual aspect into that, it really resonates with people."