The churches and temple on Longboat Key have their own unique traditions to celebrate their holidays.
Rev. Brock Patterson quickly learned to love the traditions at Longboat Island Chapel after he became the lead pastor in late 2020 — even reporting for duty at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Sunday. It leads to something beautiful. The church has held its Easter sunrise service for a long time, and despite the early wakeup call, it’s beloved among churchgoers and Patterson himself.
“This year it’s at 7 (a.m.) in the garden, and we’re expecting a good solid crowd,” Patterson said. “Last year I was told by a number of people who don’t normally attend the chapel that it’s a tradition to go to the sunrise service. It’s a really neat experience. Last year was the first one, and now I’ve been here a year, and the church is doing really well. … It’s perfect timing with (7 a.m.) being closer to true sunrise, so it’s still a little dark when we start.”
In 2022, crowds have grown and traditions have restarted and grown for the holy weekends of Easter and Passover. The Jewish event started on April 15, which also marked the start of Easter’s holy weekend, and the faith communities of Longboat Key mobilized to celebrate and uphold their traditions.
The sunrise service wasn’t the only unique tradition at Longboat Island Chapel. All throughout Lent, which started March 2, congregants participated in daily sacrifices. Some were painless, like reading the Bible for 10 minutes a day, but others required a more open heart, like praying for somebody who’s hurt you. For every week of daily challenges someone completed, they got to put a rose on the chapel’s flower cross. The flower cross has been around for years, but it’s back inside now — two years ago congregants drove by and added flowers to it from outside the chapel during the pandemic.
“It’s just loaded with roses because so many people have been doing it,” Patterson said. “It’s been neat to see week to week how those roses have blossomed.”
At St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Rev. Robert Dziedziak welcomed about 250 people into the Stations of the Cross service on Good Friday. For the past couple of years, the service has had fewer people and is usually held outside on the church’s bay walk. However, this year, due to the heat, Dziedziak kept the congregation inside. Together, they prayed through the 14 stations that depict the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
“I’m glad we did it inside with this volume of people because the prayer walk is pretty narrow,” Dziedziak said.
Other traditions, like that of the coffee hour after Easter service at Christ Church of Longboat Key, have returned with vigor after a year off. Meanwhile, at Temple Beth Israel, the temple-wide Seder is back. Executive director Isaac Azerad said members celebrated the first Seder on April 15 at home with their families, then 100 of them came together for Seder the next day. Passover is one of the most celebrated events on the Jewish calendar and commemorates the Jewish departure from Egypt and slavery. There are many traditions, but hiding and finding the afikomen is a big one. There are three pieces of matzah on the table and the middle one, called the afikomen, is broken. The big piece is wrapped in a napkin and hidden somewhere.
“If you’re a kid, or a kid at heart, or in our case 70 or younger, the special traditions include finding the afikomen,” Azerad said. “You hide it and the kid who finds it usually gets $1. Of course, today with inflation, someone joked you have to do $35.”
Now that the spring holidays are done, the full-timers of Longboat Key have a reason to celebrate even as their part-time neighbors mourn: The holidays usually mark the end of the busy season on Longboat Key, so the population will start to shrink going forward.
“Usually Easter determines the season cutoff,” Azerad said. “Because this year coincidentally Passover fell on April 15th, which was Good Friday, people made their own considerations. A lot of them decided they want to stay for the Seder and leave right after.”
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