After 30 years: Darien churches forced to cancel longtime tradition of Good Friday Cross Walk
As the community copes with new, temporary normals due to the social distancing and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, the faithful are faced with a week of celebration and worship that must also adapt.
Both Passover and Holy Week start this week — and Darien’s churches have changed to streaming services and some left palms out on the front steps for Palm Sunday on April 5. Religious and nonreligious celebrations like Easter egg hunts have been canceled.
Passover begins on April 8, and typically that means families getting together for a seder. But this year, coronavirus has changed the way the Jewish community is able to celebrate.
As a solution, many local temples and synagogues have gotten creative by hosting virtual seders and weekly services as well as helping congregants celebrate Passover at home.
And now, one of Darien’s longest running Good Friday traditions, the Cross Walk, has been canceled for the first time in its 32-year history.
Darien’s Cross Walk is a multi-church and faith partnership that begins with the carrying of a large wooden cross from First Congregational Church the nearly two miles to St. Luke’s Parish on the Post Road.
The walk began in 1988, when the Rev. Ron Evans was pastor of First Congregational. The walk symbolizes the walk of Jesus Christ to Calvary, where he was crucified — as is solemnly honored, remembered and mourned on Good Friday.
The current pastor of First Congregational since 2012, the Rev. Dale Rosenberger, said the walk was a cherished part of a shared life as different Darien congregations.
“We’re having to alter so much of the landscape of Holy Week, we were hoping to somehow maintain the walk across the heart of our town — but doing so is such a tactile experience that bunches us together,” Rosenberger said.
Instead, the cross will be placed outside First Congregational Church in the morning for residents to leave prayer intentions — and at 11:30, Rosenberger will drive the cross in his truck to St. Luke’s. As is tradition, a multi-faith prayer service will begin at St. Luke’s at noon and will be live streamed.
“It would be wrong to let the cross become an instrument to spread disease or loss of life — we need to keep it in front of us as powerful symbolism,” he said.
Rosenberger, whose wife, Dr. Cecile Windels, is a pediatrician, said his parishioners have been grateful for the online services despite how limited it may be to the real thing. The church live streams services here.
“I just got an email from a family — I’m their pastor and my wife is their pediatrician — they said their whole family gathers around because hearing our voices is comfort to them. Even if the medium isn’t as rich as gathering in person — the hunger, the craving for solace and comfort is so ratcheted up that any attempts we make seem amplified,” he said.
The Rev. Ron Evans, who served as pastor from 1985 to 2007, now lives on the West Coast with his wife Janet, who formerly was with Person-to-Person, provided The Darien Times with some insight.
The 14 prayer stops composed for the walk were meant to address various aspects of the community life. The walkers were blessed, seniors were blessed at the former Old Town Hall Homes, men and women of commerce in the business area of the Post Road, art and artists at the stop in front of the Darien Playhouse, the library staff, and Darien Police and the Darien Fire Department.
“The large cross itself, generously donated by St. Luke’s, was walked up the Post Road by clergy, church members and hangers-on, to arrive in time for the annual Good Friday service, always hosted by ever fair St. Luke’s,” Evans said.
Evans’ wife, Janet, always had some light refreshments waiting for walkers at the church before the service on behalf of St. Luke’s.
The Rev. David Anderson, former rector of St. Luke’s, said the tradition was going strong when he first came to the church in 1989. Anderson left the parish nearly 20 years later in December 2018.
“The tradition then was that the newest clergy had to first carry the cross (or at least that was what they told me.) The cross was made by St. Luke’s parishioner Ken Weeks. It is still the one used,” he said.
Anderson said to his knowledge there was never a break in the tradition — “so this will be the first.”
“Christians around the world are going to miss a lot of Holy Week and Easter traditions this year. I’m sure there’s some blessing hidden in this, but for now it just feels sad. Alas — the Lord can deal with our sadness,” Anderson said.
Current St. Luke’s Associate Rector Susan Wyper said the organizers realized there was no way to transfer the cross from one person to another without violating social distancing.
“We looked at it every which way but it was too hard. The cross is too heavy. In that spirit, we had to do something different,” she said.
Wyper said there will be a one-hour live-stream at noon from St. Luke’s. Live stream link here.
“It’s always been a very ecumenical Christian faiths tradition — we hope to have that same sort of ecumenical spirit that Good Friday has always had for the town,” Wyper said.
Rosenberger said that while everything outwardly seems transformed, and a strange land — everything inwardly “remains the same.”
“The terms loving and serving and sacrifice mean even more — so there’s no reason to celebrate a full-throated and full-hearted Easter Sunday,” he said.
“It’s not always going to be like this. It is only temporary. As St. Paul said, ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,’” he said.
The cross will be on the steps of the First Congregational Church, 14 Brookside Road, Darien, on Good Friday for anyone who wants to place prayer intentions.