My Easter Sunday experience at Bethel
A scruffy English fellow in jeans and plaid shirt shuffled up to Bethel Pentecostal Church on Easter Sunday. Even though it was sunny, he wore a toque, winter boots suitable for a building site and an autumn coat.
Perhaps the camera he was carrying distinguished him from a tramp. They invited him in for a free breakfast and said he was welcome to stay for The Thorn Easter Experience. Yes, he could take photos, he was told.
So he stayed, unsure what to expect, worried that his casual attire would appear disrespectful amid families in their Sunday best.
Yet when he entered he felt comfortable. There were people dressed in many different ways, some even in T-shirts and jeans.
In his hands the visitor clutched a “Thorn” program, which had a picture of a young man running from a tomb into an explosion of light, linen bandages falling off him. It looked like a scene from a movie, promising something different from the visitor’s experience of church back in England.
At 11 a.m. things got underway when a large video screen flickered into life. A group took the stage and a guitarist at a lectern began strumming and singing words that appeared on the screen. Other musicians joined in: guitarists, a back-up singer and a drummer who rattled out a beat that had several younger members of the congregation miming his stick movements.
The rhythms had the energy and excitement of pop or light rock. I smiled and settled into my seat near the back, realizing this really was church as I had never experienced it. Yes, the stranger had become I. I watched, I listened, I did some grunting that passed for singing, and had a good time.
The songs were unfamiliar, but who cared? The words were on display and the soaring melodies easy to grasp. The screen also helped out for Biblical passages.
A young woman – she was one of the singers – and a man later took the microphone to deliver powerful testimonies about how Jesus turned around their lives. So moving were their words that at first I thought these were personal stories. When the woman’s voice cracked, I struggled to contain my emotions.
In fact, this was the “drama” segment of the service and the pair were acting out roles in the Jesus story. Or at least that’s how I now understand it.
After a brief, dramatic movie celebrating Christ’s resurrection, Rev. David Findlay climbed the stage for a sermon that saw him prune potted roses in a symbolic act of death and rebirth. It was disconcerting to see petals fall, but we were assured the plant would bloom with fresh vigour in the church grounds.
And so The Thorn experience came to an end.
I had a strange feeling of elation as people filed out of Bethel. To see so many in church was reassuring.
A packed church is a sign of humility and accountability, of man acknowledging forces far beyond his powers. It is a sign of the yearning spirit we all share, whatever our creed.
In particular, it filled me with hope to see so many young people that beautiful day.
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