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Good Friday pilgrimage on Main Street grows in size

The annual walk, held along Main Street in Sarasota, is anticipated to draw over 1,000 participants this year.

The Rev. David Svihel, priest associate for Christian formation and outreach at Church of the Redeemer, leads the walk.
The Rev. David Svihel, priest associate for Christian formation and outreach at Church of the Redeemer, leads the walk.
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Alex Dorr has belonged to the Church of the Redeemer for 27 years, having grown up in its congregation. 

He remembers a time that the Stations of the Cross walk, held each year on Good Friday in conjunction with the Sarasota Ministerial Association, simply circled the church grounds, before it grew to involve the hundreds of pilgrims journeying down Main Street that it does today.

“It has grown very organically, so it didn't go from 10 people to 1,000 people overnight,” said Dorr, who is serving on the event's planning committee. “I think once, I was walking behind the group a bit, just observing, seeing the size, and it hit me.”

When Redeemer’s Men’s Breakfast Prayer Group began the Stations of the Cross in 1996, about 15 people participated. 

In 2023, by contrast, it involved nearly 1,000 people. This year, it will include congregations from across Sarasota, including 14 denominations and 27 ministers.

The walk begins with Rev. David Svihel, priest associate for Christian formation and outreach at Church of the Redeemer, carrying the cross, with County Commissioner Joe Neunder (left) also participating.
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Chaplain Tom Pfaff of the Sarasota Ministerial Association anticipates over 1,000 attendees this year, and it is easy to understand the reason why the event holds such significance for the Christian community. 

The walk is a tradition practiced in over 200 countries on Good Friday that grew out of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Including 14 different stations, the journey represents the path of Jesus from his arrest, to his Passion to his death. 

Pfaff said the walk brings an experience centered on Jesus' crucifixion that complements the Easter celebrations.

"It's the entire experience of the cross, and then the Resurrection, that Holy Week is all about," Pfaff said.

"There is, I think, a more personal connection to the burden that Christ had carrying his cross in actually walking it, if you will,” Dorr said.

Craig Burness, leader of Men of the Redeemer, said the event's impact on participants can be seen in the faces around everyone on the walk. 

"There’s always crowd energy, but this is a different type of energy and focus,” he said.

Although the event's setup is simple, there is a significant team effort involved. 

That includes staff at the church, who work on aspects from bringing out coffee in the morning, to obtaining permits and a police escort. 

However, a key part of the effort is the Sarasota Ministerial Association.

“SMA really helps us coordinate and get the word out, and communicate with the other congregations to pull this together, as far as logistics for that many people,” Burness said.

Pfaff said one aspect of the work is distributing booklets to participants, which makes one aware of the size of the event and its significance to Christians in the community.

"Each time you have that wonderful exchange with the minister and oftentimes with their staff, who greet you with the love of God and are excited about the upcoming event," Pfaff said. "We cover the whole county, and then we have three churches in our Newtown North Sarasota community, and you just have a sense of going from office to office, campus to campus."

Burness is looking forward to a walk that is even larger than last year's and said maybe the group will even pick up some other pilgrims along the way. 

Pfaff said as the crowd comes down the street, the noises of construction stop, and workers come to the edge of their scaffolding to watch. Burness noted that people who happen to be near one of the stations simply having breakfast or engaged in another activity, may join in the walk. 

“It's just great to see this grow and pick up momentum and energy,” Burness said. “It really is. It's fun to do. It's engaging. It's moving, but it's really cool to see it grow every year and get bigger and gain more interest.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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