The first-ever “Good Friday Journey” at Winthrop started at noon, and lasted about an hour. It was not huge, and it was not loud. But it was, in the words of so many of the four dozen people who walked the campus as Stations of the Cross, with a heavy homemade cross made from an old Christmas tree, “wonderful.”
With downtown Rock Hill’s annual Stations of the Cross event cancelled this year after an organizer moved away, the Winthrop stations was the only one of its kind in a community that celebrates Holy Week, and especially Easter weekend, as fervently as anywhere. Almost an hour before the event started, a guy named Terry Wright and his mother, May, showed up. Wright saw the Rev. David Brown, an associate pastor from Oakland Baptist Church who brought the cross, struggling across the green expanse of Winthrop’s courtyard near the DiGiorgio student center. Wright walked right up and grabbed the heavy end of the cross that had the beams tied together with heavy, frayed old rope.
“Happy to help,” said Wright. “That’s why we are here. Christ died on the cross. He died for me on that cross.”
It was that spirit that flourished throughout the hour, as students, and people from the community, gathered to start. Along with Brown, fellow collegiate clergy Rev. Christine Stoxen of Grace Lutheran Church, and Rev. John O’Kain, an associate pastor at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church, led the processional. But it was the group, the strangers that showed, who made it wonderful.
Friday turned out to be “First Friday” at Winthrop, when high schoolers considering college visit with parents and tour in small groups. Those groups stopped, and watched, as Rock Hill walked by carrying a cross.
Some even sang as they walked, and teens and parents stopped, for a moment or two, and knew something special was going on. Just like 2,012 years ago, the world went on as the cross moved, not knowing the full meaning, and the world changed forever by the movement of a cross of a condemned man. A Coca-Cola delivery truck rumbled by the procession Friday, idled before finding its destination, drowning out the prayers for a minute or two. The thirsty world did not stop for Christ.
At each of seven stations at historic places on campus - Tillman Hall, an old chapel, near an old well - there was singing, and prayers, a reading. O’Kain played a guitar. The pastors talked of actions that give to “the suffering, the friendless, and the needy.”
For one stretch, the one signifying Jesus carrying the cross, Landon Hoffman, 13, and his brother, Miller, 14, carried that cross. Mom Lori walked in between them, a steadying arm on the wood.
Each station had different persons carrying the cross. An older man and a student who came to Winthrop later in life, in her 50s, carried the cross. A pair of retired guys in golf caps took a turn. The United Methodist minister for Winthrop, Narcie Jeter, took a turn carrying the cross. She shouldered the wood and marched, with help from a stranger. The cross united them.
A guy in a leather cap took two turns. Wright, that first guy, took three turns.
“It was heavy,” Wright said. “But imagine how heavy it was for Jesus.”
Most just walked. One lady carried an infant. Another pushed a stroller. Still another couple, young, walked hand in hand, silently, and found something in that walk around the campus. And when it was over, Brown, one of the organizers, told the group to “go in the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
A woman named Linda Ashley, who braved a bad back to do the walk, called the hour, “beautiful, moving, and wonderful.”
The organizers were thrilled with the turnout. Maybe a new tradition started, at Winthrop, with these pastors and these people from so many different walks of life.
“We may have started something here,” said O’Kain, the Presbyterian youth pastor. “Today students are trying to get away for the weekend. People are busy. But there was something special here. It is called the presence of Jesus Christ.”
Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * firstname.lastname@example.org