It’s about a 2-mile walk from Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church in Ocean View to the Bethany Beach boardwalk, but on Friday, April 14, a trek from one to the other represents a faith tradition more than 2,000 years old.
Started about 10 years ago by the CRASH youth group at Mariner’s Bethel, the annual Cross Walk has grown each year, according to Christina Wilson, youth ministries director at the church.
“We were talking together as a group about what we could do,” Wilson said, and the cross walk was born. “We came up with the idea of walking the cross down to the beach.”
What started as a gathering of about 25 or 30 has grown to around 175 people traversing from the church, east on Route 26 to Bethany Beach.
During the walk, the large, heavy cross is carried by six to eight people at a time. While Wilson said she doesn’t know how much it weighs, she said it is too tall to be stood up in the church, so she estimates that it’s about 12 feet tall.
The walk itself takes about an hour, and Wilson said that in recent years about 100 people have participated in the actual carrying of the cross at some point along the journey. Once at the beach, she said, the cross is placed in the sand, and anyone who wants to may stand on a pedestal at the foot of the cross.
“It’s just a beautiful sight,” she said of the procession, which re-enacts the walk that Christians believe Jesus Christ took on his way to Calvary before his crucifixion. The work that it takes to carry the cross for those 2 miles “just really puts it into perspective that Christ was carrying it on his own. We still don’t have that great of an understanding of what he went through,” Wilson said, but the Mariner’s cross walk seeks to at least represent part of that.
Once the crowd arrives at the beach with the cross, Wilson said, “We do a time of meditation and praise and worship, and then we share lunch together, which is provided by the church.”
Over the years, Wilson said, the cross walk has become a beloved tradition for which families come together.
“It’s become just a mix of generations,” in addition to the youth group with which it originated. “People come from out of town just to be here for it,” she said.
Anyone is welcome to join the Mariner’s Bethel cross walk. Walkers will gather in the church sanctuary at 10 a.m. for a short talk. The walk takes about an hour, and after the gathering at the beach, the cross will be walked back to the church, returning around 2 p.m. Wilson said, “There are always fewer walkers on the way back, which makes it harder.”
She said reaction from passersby to the walk is always “for the most part, positive,” adding that she often sees people making the sign of the cross in their cars as they pass, “It’s really neat to see that,” she said.
For more information on the Mariner’s Bethel Cross walk, call Christina Wilson at the church, at (302) 539-9510. Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church is located at 81 Central Avenue, Ocean View.