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02/27/2009

Bethel History

Flowering the Cross - A Bethel Tradition

The Lenten season and the approaching Easter celebration is not only a time of reflection, introspection, and prayer, but it is also a time of symbolism when many Christian symbols come alive and remind us of the true meaning of the cross, the crucifixion and the resurrection.  As one of our former pillars at Bethel, Aura White wrote in 1972, a symbol is an object or a sign that stands for something else and reminds us of things unseen.

Symbols have always been an important part of the Christian life.  The Old Testament prophets used word symbols to describe the coming of Jesus.  They called him The Lamb of God and The Good Shepherd.  Early Christians who suffered persecution used the fish as a symbol to secretly communicate their fellowship in Christ.

The church spire points to things above; the cross symbolizes Christ's love and his sacrifice for the redemption of our sins and our salvation; the church bell proclaims the priority of worship over work and play; and the open door says, "This is a house of prayer and everyone is welcome."

A long standing ritual at Bethel on Easter morning is the flowering of the cross, a symbol of new beginnings that come about from being born anew into a life with Christ.  This ritual began in 1942 at a sunrise service in the flower garden of Mrs. Marie Bowers.  The sunrise service was planned by Margaret Hibbs and Dorothy Williams, and Tom White made a cross of dogwood at which everyone knelt and received a flower while David Slyh played The Old Rugged Cross on his trumpet.  That was the same year that Bethel celebrated its 100th anniversary.

From that Easter Sunday in 1942 until today, the ritual of The Flowering of the Cross has been an annual celebration at Bethel.  It is the culminating event at the Easter Sunrise Service planned and led by the Bethel UMYF.  The ritual has been modified from its early years.  Rather than picking up a flower at the foot of the cross, worshippers are given a yellow daffodil and one by one they file up the aisle to the altar and insert their daffodil into the cross that is made of a white wooden frame covered with chicken wire.

When completed, the brightly flowered cross is a reminder of spring and symbolic of a new beginning that comes about with a life of following and serving the risen Christ.