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News Maryland Baltimore County Arbutus Lansdowne

St. Stephen Lutheran Church's second annual Procession of the Palms

Cars honked, people waved and one woman yelled "Jesus is alive!" as she drove by.

That was the scene along Wilkens Avenue near Maiden Choice Lane Sunday morning as members of one Arbutus church began Holy Week in preparation for the Easter Sunday celebration on March 31.

Seven members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church participated in the church's second annual Procession of the Palms on March 24, standing outside the church on Courtney Road at Wilkens and waving palm branches to celebrate Palm Sunday.

The group arrived around 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the usual church service, and after a short blessing from Pastor Ryan Roberts, headed to Wilkens Avenue. .

Roberts led the effort, holding a fistful of palm in each hand that he shook and waved for 30 straight minutes while he discussed the importance of the church's visible involvement in the community.

"It's not often the church has an opportunity to meet outside the church walls right before worship," Roberts said.

Though the group waving palms was smaller than last year, Roberts said the procession was, "a great thing to build on, and encouraging for people."

Roberts came to St. Stephen in October 2011 and said that when he moved into the neighborhood near the church, he was disappointed to see a lack of action in the area.

"One of the things that I noticed — I live in the neighborhood — I didn't see a lot of activity taking place outside of the church," Roberts said.

"It was six months after I moved to that house that I became the pastor, and there wasn't any indication to me that there was any life happening," he said.

Roberts saw his first Palm Sunday service in 2012 as an opportunity to change that.

"I wanted us to be out and about in the neighborhood, letting people know we have a worship service about to take place in a few minutes," Roberts said.

"People took palm branches and laid them on the street into Jerusalem," he said. "Since Wilkens Avenue is somewhat of a parallel to that, I thought we would do a bit of that."

Roberts said about 20 members of the congregation gathered for the palm procession last year.

"It was a really positive surprise," Roberts said.

"Lots of people were either heading to church or heading home from their service. People waved their palm branches at us from their cars," he said.

He said the procession of the palms was originally intended to be a march around the neighborhood. That changed to accommodate the needs of elder members with limited mobility.

But being outside allowed him to spend some extra talk discussing the story of Palm Sunday with church members.

"While we're outside, we got to focus on the story of the palms," Roberts said. "It was a little Bible education time."

That Palm Sunday service was the first for Julie Albright and she was delighted to experience the story of the event as well as experience the procession of the palms.

"I guess because I'm out declaring my beliefs and kind of ushering in this new religion into my life, but it was also just a warm and happy feeling that day because I was with everyone else from that community," she said.

Albright lives in the neighborhood behind St. Stephen with her husband and two daughters who attend church with her.

She said the response they received while waving the palms was amazing.

"All I saw were smiles, some honks, a lot of waves," Albright said.

"Even if people didn't share the beliefs, they were still waving and honking and smiling. It was nice. And it made me feel better about it, too," she said.

Jennifer Bertsch, president of the church council at the time the idea for procession of the palms was introduced, said she enjoys the procession and is glad it was repeated this year.

"The council thought it was a great idea, so we agreed to do it," Bertsch said.

She said it is a great opportunity for St. Stephen to show the surrounding community the church is alive and involved.

"I just think people can see that we're an active church, that we do things and we get out into the community," Bertsch said.

"Just making Christ's presence known to people who go by," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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