Hays, Kan., procession unites participants

April 2, 2012

Sister Janet LeDuc joins Palm Sunday event

By DIANE GASPER-O’BRIEN
The Hays (Kans.) Daily News

Easter is one of Virginia Ekey’s favorite times of the year, and she said she treasures the years her birthday falls on or near Easter Sunday.

Chances are, she will remember her 75th for a long time.

Ekey, who will turn 75 on Holy Thursday, was one of approximately 150 people who took part in a multi-denominational procession Sunday in downtown Hays.

Because of a severe case of arthritis in her knees, Ekey’s main mode of transportation is a wheelchair.

That didn’t stop her from participating in the procession. Her good friend, Debby Stauverman, offered to push her the 12 blocks.

“One day I came in, and she was waving the newspaper at me with an article about the procession, saying, ‘Your church and my church are going to do this together,’ ” said Stauverman, a member of Liberty Christian Fellowship. Ekey is a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

On Sunday, Ekey and Stauverman were a perfect picture of the unity officials at the four churches in the neighborhood hoped to symbolize when they planned the procession as a special way of starting Holy Week.

Mission accomplished.

Between 30 and 40 people from each of the four churches of different denominations participated in the procession, which began and ended at St. Joseph Catholic Church at the corner of 13th and Ash streets. Following the procession, Father Barnabas Eichor, associate pastor at St. Joseph, blessed the palms before people went different directions for services at their own churches.

Parishioners young and old seemed excited as they gathered a little after 9 a.m. in front of St. Joseph Church.

As the group approached the First Baptist Church on Fort Street, it was greeted with several people sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk in front of the church, waving their palms with one hand and waving to the crowd with the other.

All along the way, participants sang “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” while marching to the beat of drummers Max Walker and Niels Rahbec, seniors at Hays High School.

“We don’t have to talk about theology to share our faith in the ecumenical faith, to experience the Christian journey,” said Sister Janet LeDuc, evangelization coordinator for St. Joseph Parish.

The procession was open to all, and LeDuc said she spotted parishioners from other Catholic churches in town.

“The awareness was there,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to make this an annual thing?”

Members of Liberty Christian Fellowship on Ninth Street joined in the procession at Ninth and Fort, and the group picked up its last set of walkers at First United Methodist Church at Eighth and Ash.

The Rev. Jerre Nolte of the Methodist church said there would have been even more from his congregation had the group not been such fast walkers.

Several of his parishioners still were in the first service of the morning.

Nonetheless, Nolte called the procession “a terrific turnout.”

“It added so much to the day,” he said.

One United Methodist family decided to attend the second service Sunday so it could participate in the procession.

“They’ve been excited about this all week,” Darren Stieben said of his two young children, Kate, 5, and Brett, 4, as he made his way up the street with Brett on his shoulders and his wife, Angela, and Kate by his side.

He said they were a little disappointed there wasn’t a donkey, as advertised — Nolte said the donkey backed out at the last minute but plans already are in the works for having an animal, of some kind, in the procession next year.

The Stiebens still enjoyed participating as a family, and as one along with parishioners from numerous churches.

“It was nice that all those churches are so close together,” Darren Stieben said.

In more ways than one.

“It was something we enjoyed being a part of the larger church community,” said Bill Poland of First Baptist Church.

In addition to walking shoes, there were plenty of wheels as several parents pushed their children in strollers.

And then there was Stauverman pushing Ekey in her wheelchair — that is, until they started the incline on Ash Street, heading north on the final leg back to St. Joseph Church.

“I don’t know the gentleman who offered to push her up the hill, but I sure do thank him,” Stauverman said. “That really helped a lot.”

It was another example of unity organizers of the procession had hoped for.

“Unity is very refreshing,” Stauverman said, “and it can also be quite powerful.”