Twice-postponed polls will mark the first test of voter support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Draped in sacred white cloth, the procession drifted silently towards a priest calling the faithful to celebrate the Archangel Michael, a revered saint in Ethiopia.
At about dawn, thousands of worshippers gathered at the church in Amhara, the second-largest region of Ethiopia, which is staging long-awaited elections on Monday.
The devotees – some bent over canes and others clutching children – offered prayers to Saint Michael in a church bearing his name and topped with metal crosses and a soaring Ethiopian flag in the city of Bahir Dar.
“This is a great day for us … In our faith, we pray to Saint Michael to bring us peace, and to protect us from evil,” said Huluager Kinde, a 27-year-old worshipper.
Leaving the church, Ebabu Tsega, his forehead marked with a cross drawn in ash, said the vote was “essential” for Ethiopia.
“I am very happy to go and vote because I am going to elect those who are going to lead me and represent me,” the 29-year-old elementary school teacher said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who rose to power in 2018 on the back of popular demonstrations against the government, promised to hold Ethiopia’s most competitive elections yet.
Monday represents his first electoral test since the prime minister embarked on a suite of democratic and economic reforms.
But many voters – including in parts of Amhara – will have to wait until September to cast their ballot, with elections postponed in about one-fifth of Ethiopia’s constituencies due to unrest and logistical problems.
In Tigray, the war-torn region next door to Amhara, there will be no election at all.
Gulilat Worku, another worshipper at the church in Bahir Dar, hoped voters would “peacefully accept” the outcome of Monday’s poll.
“We pray that every Ethiopian participates in the election, and accepts the results,” the 34-year-old doctoral student said.