By Debbie Adams
About 20 years ago, Tina Yates, then the Youth Director at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton, came up with the idea of telling the Easter story with a “living storybook” in the Sunday School classrooms at Thrasher. “Stations of the Cross” were set up throughout the classes depicting several scenes from the last hours of the life of Jesus, from the Lord’s Supper to his crucifixion and burial.
The following year, Yates asked the question, “If other churches have drive-thru nativity scenes, why don’t we do a drive-thru ‘Stations of the Cross?’”
The presentations, scheduled for Good Friday, continued for many years and with many different youth groups. The tradition is making a return this year, on Friday, April 15, when the community is invited to drive through the parking lot at Thrasher to once again view scenes leading up to the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
This year Yates is leaving Thrasher and her position as Christian Formation Director, having completed a program of study to become ordained as a Licensed Local Pastor, currently assigned to Parrish Chapel.
Her son, Dustin, who once portrayed Jesus in one of the scenes from the Stations of the Cross, asked her to bring back the drive-thru presentation one last time before she moves on. He promised to take on the role of Jesus at the crucifixion again if she would consent.
The Stations of the Cross are based on the 14-step Catholic devotional which Yates and others distilled down to eight vital scenes to help understand God’s love in the journey of Jesus to the cross. The stations serve as a sort of “mini-pilgrimage” along that path, leading to Easter.
The public will be able to drive through the scenes from 8 to 9 p.m. on Good Friday. They will follow signage to enter on Pine Street and be guided through the parking lots past the scenes. Each vehicle will be given a QR Code to listen to an audio presentation on You Tube as they move along–or a CD–as there are no speaking parts for the youth. Their task is to sit quietly and earnestly in the scenes.
The eight stations will include the Jesus with his disciples at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus praying alone in the garden on the Mount of Olives (“Not my will but Thine be done”), Pilate sentencing Jesus to be crucified, Peter’s denial of Jesus, Jesus carrying his cross, Jesus being crucified on the cross, a portrayal of Michelangelo’s “Pieta” in which his mother Mary holds the body of Jesus when he is taken down from the cross, and Jesus buried in the tomb– but a tomb of life and hope, not a tomb of death. (None of the scenes are graphic.)
On Sunday, April 10, some of the youth, Yates, current Youth Director Bonnie Jones, and several other adults, helped to mark-off the parking lot and prepare the props to be put in place for a dress rehearsal on Thursday night, followed by the community event on Friday.
The sets created those many years ago are still in use. Artist and church member Pam Johnson painted beautiful backdrop scenes onto canvas which have been preserved and maintained. While the youth have been featured in the portrayals, young adults, parents, and other church members have always been on hand to assist. Dave Jones, Bonnie’s husband, was tasked with building some of the first sets. Yates recalls sending parents Wade Pence and Gary Houff dumpster-diving in the early years to find carpet tubes to roll the painted canvases on.
About 25 youth and young adults will be featured in the scenes this Good Friday, including Stella Jones, Cary Jones, Barbie Hernandez, Maddie Hamren, Vivian Hernandez, Beth Gillespie, Molly Crow, Eli Richardson, Eli Crow, Luis Hernandez, Isaac Anderson, Evan Heck, Ethan Sutton, McKenzie Crow, Hannah Sutton, Kaelan Quinley, Levi Anderson, Dom Crutchfield, Madison Crow, Cali Levine, Jeni Levine, Jacob Montague, and Dustin Yates.
Many others will be assisting with costumes, sets, props, QR Code and CD distribution, and traffic management.
Yates says that in all the years the youth have been presenting “Stations of the Cross” the performance has only been called off once, and that was due to lightning, not precipitation. She recalls one year when the wind was blowing so hard that the sets were lashed with bungee cords to cars they had to park behind the canvases. Luckily, the weather forecast for April 15 is a good one.
The youth say viewing the Stations of the Cross is a good way to experience what Jesus went through. Yates has said that “you can’t really celebrate Easter until you journey with Him to the cross.”
Thrasher Memorial UMC is located at 707 East Washington Avenue near downtown Vinton.