Apr 02, 2024 | John W. Coleman

Churches across the Eastern PA Conference spent much of a busy but blessed Holy Week in worship through sermons, ceremony and song—many worshiping jointly with neighboring churches. But some attempted creative, energetic ways to demonstrate the sacred significance of this pivotal week of our faith. Some marched to publicly witness to life and hope on Good Friday. Others dramatized scenes from the story of Christ’s crucifixion. And still others went hunting…for Easter eggs, that is.

The Rev. Joy Griffin (center), pastor of Simpson-Fletcher United Methodist Church, helps lead a Good Friday walk to remember and pray for victims of gun violence. Abdul Sulayman photo for the Philadelphia Tribune

Local news coverage, church Facebook posts and promptings from pleased district superintendents informed us of quite a few Holy Week happenings worth sharing now as we embark on a new season that we know as Eastertide.

Several churches walked their neighborhood streets to share public proclamations of grave concern and resilient hope, just as Jesus commanded his disciples following his resurrection.

Simpson-Fletcher United Methodist Church cosponsored with other West and Southwest Philadelphia churches in its Mission Link a community prayer march on Good Friday to address the unrelenting tragedy of gun violence—a timely, occasion to lament death while clinging to hope in the resurrection. Also participating were members of Calvary, Eastwick, Camphor Memorial, Clearview, Wharton-Wesley, Berry Long and Sayers Memorial UM churches, plus others in the local, ecumenical ministerium.

Walking for gun violence victims and for Christ

A Memorial to the Lost exhibit on Simpson-Fletcher United Methodist Church’s lawn. Abdul Sulayman photo for the Philadelphia Tribune

“The good Lord gave us good weather to walk and pray in our neighborhood for those affected by gun violence,” said the Rev. Joy Griffin, Simpson-Fletcher’s pastor. “We want our community to know that we are praying for change.”

Following Seven Last Words of Christ services, church and community members carried signs and walked a loop around the Simpson-Fletcher church. They also observed a now-familiar, somber memorial: brightly colored t-shirts bearing gun victims’ names and ages arrayed across the church’s front lawn. The Heeding God’s Call anti-gun violence advocacy organization sponsors the displays for houses of worship of all faiths to heighten the impact of their advocacy for public policies to help end gun violence.

See “Simson-Fletcher United Methodist marches against guns” for photos taken byAbdul Sulayman of the Philadelphia Tribune.

Also on Good Friday, United Methodists in Stroudsburg joined in an ecumenical “Walk for Christ”—a 30-year tradition that drew a large, diverse crowd. They carried an old, rugged cross from St. John’s Lutheran Church, where the hour-and-a-half walk begins, all the way to Stroudsburg United Methodist Church. Along the way, the growing crowd stopped at seven participating downtown Protestant and Catholic churches to read Scriptures about Jesus’ life, ministry and death.

Stroudsburg United Methodist Church was one of several sites visited during the annual Stroudsburg Walk for Christ on Good Friday.

“We have times in our lives that are challenging, times we would never choose. And yet, Jesus walks with us; the community walks with us,” the Rev. Monica Guepet of Stroudsburg UMC told a local news reporter. “Good Friday is a reminder of that time together.”

This annual “Cross Walk” was the first for the Rev. Jack Tironi, Faith United Methodist Church’s new pastor. “You see from the number of people who attend this event, who belong to these churches, that there’s a sense of meaning to their participation and their openness for that kind of thing,” he said.

See photos on Faith UMC Stroudsburg’s Facebook page, and view photos and a TV news interview with participating pastors at “Hundreds ‘Walk for Christ’ on Good Friday.”

Dramatizations commemorate Good Friday

Crucifixion scene during Sanctuary UMC’s Good Friday dramatization. Rev. Andrew Foster photo

“Sanctuary UMC has not held a Good Friday service for several years; so, I took the initiative to compose a dramatization of the Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ,” reported the Rev. Lorraine Foster, pastor of the North Wales church. Members acted out compelling scenes inspired by the Gospels’ accounts.

Four women performers in Messiah United Methodist Church’s Good Friday presentation of The Mary Monologues.” Photo courtesy of Rev. Robert Johnson (center)

“The outcome brought deep, reflective emotions among the attendees,” recalled Foster. “The success of the production has already ignited enthusiasm among the cast and church members, who are eagerly planning next year’s performance.” Members of Haws Avenue UMC, led by the Rev. Lisa DePaz, pastor, also attended the event.

Messiah United Methodist Church in Lafayette Hill also offered a dramatic Good Friday performance by four of its members, titled “The Mary Monologues.” In the play four prominent “Mary” characters in the life of Jesus–Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mark the mother of Mark, and Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany–share what they saw and felt in witnessing the actions of Jesus as he neared the awful day of his sacrificial death.

And in a joint Good Friday service with Marshallton UMC, Romansville UMC pastor the Rev. John Neider eulogized Jesus’s life to introduce a series of moving monologues spoken by followers of the crucified savior, wearing biblical-period attire, in an imagined gathering after his burial. As Jesus’ disciple “John,” the Rev. David Eckert, Marshallton’s pastor, recalled events of the Last Supper. Lay members then portrayed “Peter,” “Mary Magdalene” and “Salome,” each recalling what they witnessed during Jesus’ arrest in the garden and at the foot of the cross. View the 58-minute video on Romansville UMC’s Facebook page.

Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday celebrated with music, art and play

Lancaster First United Methodist Church’s “Epic Easter Eve Worship Concert” scene of orchestral music synergized with art. Jim Goudie photo

And while many churches may have been dormant on Holy Saturday, March 30, some were not. First United Methodist Church in Lancaster made Saturday special by blending live music with performance art its annual “Epic Easter Eve Worship Concert.”  Music Director Brian Norcross conducted a full orchestra in performing Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler, while worship artist Brian Lehman painted a vivid, illuminated portrait of Christ.

Together, both amazed their audience in sight and sound with “a beautiful depiction of Jesus’s path to the cross and his amazing resurrection to life.”  See Jim Goudie’s photos of the event.

Lansdale UMC Easter egg hunt. Rev. Steward Warner photo

Meanwhile, Lansdale and Ardmore UMC were among many that welcomed and delighted children with colorful Easter egg hunts that brought fun-filled enjoyment to many on Saturday and Easter Sunday. See the Rev. Steward Warner’s photos of Lansdale UMC’s Easter egg preparation and festivities.

And finally, many churches welcomed Easter Sunday morning with an outdoor sunrise service, like Leola UMC whose members gathered at a nearby park. Then climactic, inspiring Easter worship celebrations culminated a Holy Week full of sights and sounds but also some serenity, as churches across the Eastern PA landscape sang with uplifted hearts and voices the favorite Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

Leola UMC Easter Sunday morning sunrise service