Friday, March 29, 2013

What’s a Non -Anglican, -Episcopal, -Catholic Nice Guy Like Me Doing at a “Stations of the Cross” Service?

Holy Week 2013 and I found myself in South Carolina – spending my afternoons and evenings in Murrells Inlet where my eldest daughter and her family live, and my nights and mornings in Myrtle Beach where my wife and I usually hang out when we’re down here.  For church services on Sunday, we have the privilege of attending All Saints Church, in Pawleys Island.  The Rector, and I have heard him several times, is as unashamedly evangelical as many of the pastors in the churches I would normally attend back home in Toronto, including my own.  The church follows an Anglican tradition in its services.  The weekend service I attended before writing this column I found the liturgy of Palm Sunday to be very moving.  There is something wonderful about actually participating and interacting in a service the way liturgical services go.  With that positive experience once again, I decided that I would go to the Stations of the Cross service the church held on Good Friday at 5:30 p.m.  I went alone and took my camera, having never been to one of these before and wanting to be able to share a little bit of it – even if it were through digital images -- with my wife.

The service lasted exactly one hour.  While All Saints has a good size congregation of several hundred, there were fifty to perhaps seventy-five souls at this service.  Mainly, the group was made up of folks of middle age and younger couples, with just a few children, and some singles of all ages, myself included, that day.

The service was led by the Assistant Rector with help from a Deacon, a member of the congregation as a Reader, the worship director to lead us in songs we sang, and several other volunteers who carried what appeared to be a relatively heavy cross from station to station as Jesus had done.

We started in what I believe was the second oldest of the four worship buildings on the grounds.

Anglican services in the oldest building started back in 1737 after land was bought from the person after whom Pawleys Island was named.  The rest is history.  Including a short break in conjunction with the American Revolution, the church as it now operates, has been going for 276 years.  Together we sang How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, participated in some prayers and then The Pilgrims (as we were identified in the detailed program that even an uninitiated congregant at such services such as I could easily follow) followed the cross to the First Station.   Stations were anywhere from fifty yards to about two hundred yards apart, all outside, and in path which took us nicely throughout most of the property.

At each station, we stopped and there was a reading from a person identified as the First Voice who either told us “This was the way it was” when what he read came from what we are told in Scripture, or “This was the way it might have been” when he read what church tradition believes to be true.  At each station following the reading by the First Voice, the Assistant Rector read a short (one paragraph) meditation that we could all follow along with in our programs.  Then someone else would volunteer to carry the cross to the next station.  Young and old, male and female, participated.  It was particularly a joy to see couples carrying the cross together.


The first seven Stations were titled as follows:
I. Jesus is Condemned to Death
II. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
III. Jesus Falls for the First Time
IV. Jesus Falls a Second Time
V. The Cross Is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
VI. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
VII. Jesus Is Stripped of His Clothes

At the eighth Station of the Cross titled, VIII. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross, The Pilgrims sang the first three verses of Were You There?

When we finished singing, we moved on to the ninth Station, IX. Jesus Dies on the Cross.  There a crown of thorns was hung on the cross and a white cloth was draped on it before the First Voice and the Meditation was given.

Once completed, the white cloth was taken down from the cross, folded nicely and the congregants were led away from the cross, leaving it behind.  We made our way back into the old church.

There we participated in the tenth Station, X. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.  After its First Voice and Meditation readings, we sang the fourth verse of Were You There?  Two more prayers and then The Pilgrims depart(ed) in silence.

As I left the building, thinking of all my Savior had gone through for me, I turned right (with a few others) rather than go left back to the parking lot to walk and meditate a while through the church’s beautiful cemetery where people have been buried for close to three centuries.

This “nice little non-liturgical congregant” had one of the most meaningful Good Friday services I have experienced in years.  I strongly recommend it.  For a selection of some of the readings at each Station you may wish to Google “Station of the Cross Liturgy”.  Better still make it a point to attend a similar service next year at a church that has one near you.

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