The presence of Easter was felt in one area of the downtown Johnson City community Saturday night, as members of many local churches gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church for the Great Vigil of Easter.
More than 100 people from churches including St. John’s Episcopal, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Watauga Avenue Presbyterian, Hopwood Christian at Milligan College, Cherokee United Methodist, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Christian and Saint Thomas Episcopal in Elizabethton, filtered into the church gathering area, picking up a candle and a program before the start of the service.
The Rev. Dr. Hal Hutchison of St. John’s Episcopal said the Saturday night vigil is an ancient tradition of Christians gathering the night before to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He said during the traditional vigil celebration, lessons and passages from the Old Testament are read, as well as baptisms of new Christians.
At 8 p.m., those in attendance filed out of the church to circle around a fire that was lit and blessed, representing the new life Jesus brought about through resurrection.
From the fire, church members and vigil participants lit their individual candles and entered the church sanctuary to the chant of the Exsultet, an ancient hymn praising the resurrection.
St. John’s parishioner Deb Paessler, said community events, like the vigil, is something church members look forward to.
“It’s not often that we really get to do something and have the community in our building and it’s really wonderful to pull everybody together. We’d really like to see more of that happen,” she said.
Paessler said in the past, vigils have varied in size and community involvement.
“Sometimes it’s just us and our parish and sometimes it’s other churches as well, but the more we get in the more beautiful the experience can be. It’s such a wonderful time and to be able to cross all those interfaith lines is lovely,” she said.
During the vigil, participants listened to nine lessons from the Old Testament, witnessed two baptisms and celebrated the Holy Eucharist.
Hutchison said the money taken up during the offering would be given to Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Johnson City.
He said while each participating church has their special way of celebrating Easter Sunday, he said Saturday night’s vigil was an opportunity for the churches to participate in something unique and ancient together.
“I think there’s a real sense of even though we’re scattered and divided by some theologies and practices and traditions, we’re still ... together as members of the greater body of Christ, with our various gifts and things we bring to the world in His name,” Hutchison said. “It connects us with the ancient church and ... cross boundaries in the modern church, too.”