Our worship team was discussing the Holy Week noon day services, a longstanding practice for Holy Week. The group debated whether to continue the services, because while they were meaningful and implemented favorably, they were still not well attended. As the new one in the group, I reminded the team that most of the congregation worked during weekdays, and getting to and from their worksite with traffic and parking at our urban church was not practical. But the team was relentless in their discussion, making it clear that the church should be offering a discipline for Holy Week, and they wanted it to extend beyond Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services.
With a nudge from Henri Nouwen (Walk with Jesus, Stations of the Cross with illustrations by Sister Helen David), I suggested that whether or not the noon services continued, we create a unique, creative, collaborative Stations of the Cross experience people could walk through at any time throughout Holy Week.
The team was interested, but not quite sure about implementation, so I decided to create a “mock station” to show the senior minister and worship coordinator. I chose Station 8, Simon carries the cross.
The year was 2006, and the previous Labor Day weekend, we had all viewed on TV the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. UMC churches had responded to the call for flood buckets and donations to UMCOR, and churches sent mission teams to assist with clean up efforts. As I thought about the flood, and Simon, the efforts of those deployed to search and rescue reminded me of this stranger being pulled in to share Christ’s load. I created a poster of images of rescue efforts from Katrina, including a reference to our churchwide response. I then remembered a wooden carving of a figure carrying a cross I had purchased from a fair trade store, and grabbed that and a bit of burlap I thought might be helpful in set-up. Then, using the Upper Room devotion as the model, I created a reflection with scripture, narrative, and prayer.
I set up the station one of the wide window sills that surround our sanctuary. Our minister resonated quickly with the suggestion I was making, and with the creativity of our worship coordinator, we were able to see a way for all of the 14 stations to be displayed in the sanctuary, beginning in the narthex and moving all around the nave on the windowsills as well as other natural places for some small tables.
We asked small groups within the church, Sunday school classes, and teams to take on the creation of a station. By sending a picture of my sample station, and the devotional, groups were able to see the end result of what we were requesting. We then suggested that they read and discuss the station in their small group, and see what emerged from discussion. As they did, two or three in the group would find a way to illustrate the insight of the group, and another volunteer crafted their meditation.
We chose to set up the stations so they would be in the sanctuary on Palm Sunday, and available to our congregation and visitors during the week, including after the noon Good Friday service. They were then dismantled before Holy Saturday so that preparations for Easter Sunday could be made.
Going on a pilgrimage is an old Christian tradition, and early Christians went to the holy places in Jerusalem; over the years this path was known as the “Via Dolorosa,” the “Sorrowful Way.” The Franciscans took this practice from Jerusalem to the churches of Italy, erecting stations in churches and other sites. The practice spread throughout Europe and then the world. Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross is an ancient way of participating in Jesus suffering in the last days before his death. The concept of pilgrimage is re-ignited with creative visuals that interpret the historical events of the suffering of Christ in terms of their significance for our present-day walk of faith.
And, as pilgrimage does, transformation is brought about in unexpected ways. Our church has continued this pilgrimage each year as a Lenten and Holy Week tradition.
Tips for Organizing a Stations of the Cross Experience
- Decide where you will set up your stations; Make sure you have appropriate accommodations to allow for times when persons can walk the stations.
- Call for volunteers to create stations, letting them know the goal of reflecting on both the traditional images and the scripture to artistically create a display the station, often drawing on contemporary themes to illustrate the journey to the Cross.
- Encourage the creation of a station by individuals or groups, emphasizing that the development of a station is a spiritual exercise. It includes reading and praying the scripture, meditating on the event of the station, creating symbol to represent the station, and writing a devotion and prayer to support the display.
- A call for persons or groups to create stations should be made with the start of the Lenten season, and the creation is a Lenten exercise or commitment.
- Provide examples of stations, and offer technical assistance to those volunteering. Ask a creative member of the worship team, or altar guild, or other creative church member to be a Stations support person to lead the development process.
- An assignment guide can support the organizational process. (See attached chart from the United Methodist Book of Worship below.) Make sure everyone is clear their assigned station, and where it will be set up.
- A sample devotion can show groups the approximate length and scripture-narrative-prayer outline. (See sample devotion attached below.)
- Provide a deadline for the devotional.
- Provide a time for displays to be set up and have the Stations Support person there to assist.
- Create a sign for each station, giving the number and name and a key scripture. For example, “Station 1: Jesus Prays Alone: Luke 22:39-44.”
- You can print all of the devotionals in a booklet to make available, but know that these will disappear during the week and may need to be replenished. Another method is to provide the devotional at the station, and laminating the devotion greatly diminishes someone walking away with it, so it remains at the station for use by all.
- You may want to have volunteers available during the time the Stations are available for walking, to greet persons and welcome visitors.
- Publicize the opening of the Stations on Palm Sunday. Encourage walking the stations for Holy Week; an announcement on that Sunday morning is encouraged.
- Publicize to the community through local announcements and posters.
- Give clear times the church is open for viewing the stations.
- Encourage spiritual formation groups to offer group times for walking the stations.
- Encourage persons who attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to take time to walk the stations.
- It is helpful to have a way for individuals to have a concrete way of responding to Station 13, Jesus dies on the cross. Examples include placing a pebble at the bottom of the cross as a reminder that we can leave our pain and struggles at the cross, and rest in God.
- Some stations that have been effective include:
- Creation of a garden with live plants or landscape maps for Station 1, Jesus prays alone.
- An illustration of a wrongful arrest, such as Rosa Parks, for Station 2, Jesus is arrested.
- A photo of a “blind children crossing” sign, referring to the blindness of the Sanhedrin Jesus appears before at Station 3.
- Character hats that cause persons to be judged or recognized for Station 6, Jesus wears the Crown.