Holy Week, which for Christians includes the seven days from Palm Sunday to Easter, is a time set aside for believers to walk day by day through the events from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on his way to the cross, death and resurrection.
On St. Simons Island, churches and their members band together to make that journey. The Rev. Bob Brearley, co-pastor at St. Simons Presbyterian Church, says the tradition of community Holy Week services on the barrier island goes back a couple of decades. Those services culminate in the annual Easter Sunrise Service at the St. Simons Pier, for which Brearley said there are records dating back to 1991.
“We can safely say the sunrise service has been happening for at least 30 years,” Brearley said. He’s unsure when the Holy Week services began, but knows they were in place when he arrived at St. Simons Presbyterian in 1998.
The services, which are held in a different island church each day, begin at noon and include a light lunch following a 30-minute worship service. Organizers ask for a donation of $3 per day to cover the cost of the lunch, which is prepared by members of the host church.
Other areas have community Holy Week services, but what sets the week apart on St. Simons Island is the church rotation, accompanied by guest pastors each day. In other words, the pastor attendees hear at a church, will not be the pastor of that church.
The week’s services, Brearley said, reflect the commitment of island pastors to roll up their sleeves, organize the week and get it done.
“The attendance of the people confirms that,” he said.
Brearley said the services bring people peace at a time when people are seeking it.
“They are spiritually uplifting, he said. “It hits a note of cooperation rather than competition.”
The services underscore that “we’re all in this together,” he said.
While the pastors are performing the ministry of service by organizing the week-long observance, participating churches, Brearley said, are participating in the ministry of hospitality by hosting the services and providing the luncheons.
“It’s a ministry of visitation by the rest of us,” he said.
Services will be held every day but Thursday, when individual churches will observe their own Maundy Thursday traditions.
Leading off the series will be retired United Methodist minister the Rev. Dave Hanson, former pastor of St. Simons United Methodist Church.
Brearley referred to Monday as “Reunion Day,” because Hanson will be preaching from his former pulpit.
Other preachers will include Brearley, the Revs. Marcia Cochran, pastor of St. Simons United Methodist Church and Tommy Townsend, vicar of Holy Nativity Episcopal Church.
The speaker at the Easter Sunrise Service will be the Rev. Gary Shavers, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.
People who attend all four services, along with Maundy Thursday services in their home churches, will follow the footsteps of Jesus from the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem to Jesus’ teaching and his eventual withdrawal from his disciples just prior to the crucifixion.
“It’s the communities of Christ walking with Jesus to Easter,” Brearley said.