Church plans to take Jesus outside

Adam Furfaro (centre) with members of the Creative Arts Ministry at Light On The Hill.
Photography: 
Michael Hudson

Visual arts help tell Easter story

Light On The Hill, Oak Ridges (also known as St. John the Baptist, Oak Ridges) plans to make Jesus known to the surrounding community during Holy Week – literally.

On Palm Sunday, church members will be taking part in a Parade of Triumph through a nearby subdivision and along Yonge Street, singing, praising the Lord, waving palm fronds and asking neighbours to join them. At the end of the procession, an actor playing Jesus will be riding on a donkey.

The parade will be one of several creative events put on by the church, which will be using drama, music, art, video and audio recordings to tell the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. About 60 people will be volunteering their time and talents during the week, April 5-12.

The person behind it all is Adam Furfaro, the executive director of Light On The Hill. A former theatre director, he says drama, music and the visual arts are an excellent way to tell the story of Jesus, especially to people who are not Christian and do not speak English as their first language.

For Light On The Hill, that is a priority. Located on the northern boundary of Richmond Hill on Yonge Street, the church is close to Canada’s largest Farsi-speaking Iranian community and about 18,000 Mandarin-speaking people. There are also smaller groups from Russia, South Korea and other countries.

For the past few years, the church has worked hard to connect with people in those communities, starting a Mandarin ministry, translating services into Farsi, and providing space for other groups to hold worship services and programs.

The hard work is bearing fruit. About 30 people from the Iranian community have joined the church, and a Mandarin service each Sunday at noon attracts about 35 people. The church is open seven days a week and is almost always busy. It has a total membership of about 140.

“We’re starting to reflect much more what our community is,” says Mr. Furfaro, who has been serving alongside the incumbent, the Rev. Peter Blundell, for the past three years.

Light On The Hill has held innovative Holy Week activities before, but this is the first time in recent memory that it will be holding a Palm Sunday procession through the neighbourhood. “We thought it was time to take Easter from inside the church to outside the church a bit more,” says Mr. Furfaro.

Two weeks before the parade, the church will deliver postcards to residents along the route, inviting them to join the procession and attend the worship service afterwards. The cards will be printed in English, Mandarin and Farsi. Another reminder will be handed out a couple of days prior to Palm Sunday.

The parade will kick off a week of imaginative events and activities, all designed to bring people closer to Jesus. Here are the highlights:

  • From Monday to Maundy Thursday, between 6:30-7 p.m., there will be prayer for the community at large.
  • Each family will be assigned a day during the week to meet and pray as a family for their neighbours and those who not yet know Jesus.
  • Each day of the week, a prayer email will be sent to everyone in the church, asking them to share the email with friends and family. Each email will contain a word associated with Holy Week and a short reflection on that word.
  • A “reflections table” will be set up in the sanctuary throughout the week, and visitors and members of the congregation will be encouraged to share a thought, scriptural passage, drawing, image or written prayer.
  • In the sanctuary, an audio loop of songs, hymns, and recorded monologues in remembrance of Jesus will be given by characters from the New Testament, including Mary, Peter, The Roman Soldier, The Thief on The Cross, Pontius Pilot, Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus. Visual images of Holy Week, prayers and reflections will play on two large video monitors and a rear projection screen.
  • On Good Friday, “stations of meditation” will be set up throughout the church. Each room will have its own theme. The “Cross Room” will feature images of Jesus and offer an opportunity for visitors to figuratively and literally nail their sins (written on paper) to a large wooden cross in the centre of the room. The “Meditation Room” will feature works of art associated with Jesus, scripture and Holy Week. The room will include Bibles and contemporary worship videos.
  • On Good Friday, the church’s kitchen will feature “A Taste of Jerusalem,” a small tapas-style tasting experience with olives, eggs, dates, unleavened bread and small skewers of lamb.
  • The church’s Good Friday service, called “Victory at Calvary,” will feature music, monologues and meditations reflecting on the day of Jesus death and ending with the hope of the resurrection.
  • Easter celebrations will commence at 10 a.m. with a live portrayal of Mary’s return from the empty tomb.

Mr. Furfaro says the activities reflect the artistic talent of the congregation. “We are blessed with a massive amount of creative and artistic-minded people here,” he says. Those helping during the week will include professional musicians, actors, visual artists and people with backgrounds in video and television.

He says planning and putting on the week is a “complete immersion” experience for those involved. It’s also an opportunity for people to be together for more than a few hours on a Sunday morning. “It builds community within the church,” he says. “Afterwards, more people are inclined to stay involved, joining things like the worship team or the drama ministry team.”

In addition to making Jesus known, he hopes the week’s activities will give people a deeper understanding of the Christian story. “There’s such an arc to the week,” he says. “We want to create a trajectory where we go through Jesus being vilified and his victory on the cross and his vindication on Sunday. If we can do that, it creates an amazing tie between Jesus’s birth at Christmas and his death and resurrection at Easter. We want people to understand that you can’t have one without the other.”

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