Easter cross a heavy task for villagers

It's a familiar scene - crowds of villagers parading through the streets on Good Friday, someone up ahead carrying a large cross, as they head to a service at a nearby church.

It's a familiar scene - crowds of villagers parading through the streets on Good Friday, someone up ahead carrying a large cross, as they head to a service at a nearby church.

These processions are a time-honoured symbol to mark one of the most important dates in the Christian calendar - the day Jesus struggled through the streets of Jerusalem to the site of his crucifixion.

But as an ageing congregation of Norfolk villagers tries to carry on that solemn tradition they have been forced to scale back their event - because of a lack of young cross bearers.

The cross procession organised by Dilham church has paraded through four Norfolk villages since the 1980s. Starting in Smallburgh it moves on through Dilham, Honing and Crostwight during the event which usually lasts most of the day.

But this year it will remain within Dilham, take just 25 minutes and only cover the distance between the Cross Keys Inn and the village's church.

Back in the early 1990s, the procession would attract up to 30 people of all ages, including children, who would take their turn to lug the 10kg, 5ft by 3ft cross along the route.

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But as congregation numbers have decreased and most loyal walkers have joined the pension queue, that task has become a feat too much.

Marina Daniels, church reader, said: 'The people that started it have got older. I opted out of it three years ago and different people have felt that it was too much. It's quite a long way to walk and the cross was too heavy.'

Ann Dunne, 65, who still takes part in the procession with her 66-year-old husband Howard, said many of the former cross bearers were now in their 70s and there were no longer younger members of the congregation coming along to replace them.

She said: 'You get a few aches and pains and you can't walk so far - especially with a heavy cross.

With only between six and eight volunteers, the youngest ones in their mid 50s, expected to take part tomorrow organisers had feared they would have to call it off but instead opted for a truncated route.

Ms Dunne, secretary for the parochial church council, said: 'I thought, 'oh, no'. The cross being taken through the village is such an important thing. Everybody eats Easter eggs and thinks 'isn't this wonderful' - but do they know why? The cross procession is a vital Christian symbol.'

Members of the church, who are also without a rector at the moment which is affecting numbers, said they were saddened by the falling interest and would love more people from the surrounding area to join in and help resurrect the event.

Mrs Dunne said: 'We are trying to be part of the village. There are a lot of people who are interested in the church. Just because they do not attend services, it doesn't mean they do not have a faith. We have to say 'we're here, and we're a friendly group'.'

The Venerable Jan McFarlane, spokesman for the Diocese of Norwich, said this was not a wide trend across the church and many of the larger processions, including one to Norwich Cathedral and the Sheringham procession which last year attracted 100 worshippers, were actually growing in number.

But she added: 'A Good Friday procession is never going to be a crowd-puller as we're remembering what happened that first Good Friday when Jesus' enemies decided to put him to death - and that's something many people would rather avoid thinking about.'

Hot cross buns will be provided at the Dilham event and Mrs Dunne said anyone wanting to just watch the procession as it passes would be very welcome.

Anyone who would like to join in with the procession should meet at the Cross Keys pub, The Street, Dilham, at 9.15am tomorrow.