If you’ve read Pat Conroy’s “The Prince of Tides,” you are no doubt familiar with Amos Wingo, grandfather of main character and narrator Tom Wingo. The book describes the yearly traffic ticket Amos received for walking through town on Good Friday dragging a wooden cross and embarrassing his grandchildren in the process. Though Conroy couched much of his own reality in fiction, the truth is that cross-bearers still exist in the very real Beaufort.
“It serves as a remembrance and reflection for believers who see the cross in passing,” said Jeremiah Young, youth pastor at St. Helena Baptist Church and organizer of the most recent cross walk.
Young was inspired to start the event several years ago by the story of Arthur Blessitt, a Los Angeles-based preacher who has carried a cross nearly 42,000 miles across the globe in a all-but-never-ending, 48-year journey. And though other congregations have done something similar – notably Carteret Street United Methodist – Young enlisted the help of members from Love House Ministries, Grace and Truth Gospel Chapel, Meadowbrook Baptist and Faith Harvest Christian Fellowship. Together with St. Helena Baptist, 40 youth and adult church members took turns covering 20 miles of Beaufort roads from downtown, across the bridges and back to St. Helena Baptist.
Wearing bright colors and moving at a steady clip, the groups were seen at various spots all over town by passersby last weekend. But seeing and hearing are different senses, and this demonstration appeals to the former more than the latter.
“It’s a great display of God’s love for the world in a silent sense,” said Preston Thompson, youth leader for Love House Ministries. “It’s a necessary reminder to those who may be convicted by the display.”
The route is always modified by how many people have signed up to test their endurance. The idea is that no one has to carry the cross more than a half mile. Recent — and welcome — modifications to the wooden, 60-pound cross itself include stabilizing wheels that help traverse the sandy and gravelly Beaufort terrain. It also helps lessen the burden for that long half-mile so that even a child could participate, which Young’s own 7-year old son did this year, becoming the youngest cross-bearer in the process.
That kind of courage and strength comes with risks.
One of Young’s daughters was carrying the cross on Highway 21 several years ago when a driver slowly veered toward her. An adult walker was able to get between the driver and the cross and avert disaster, but the intent of the driver was clear - and less than honorable.
“We take it as it comes and we pray as we go,” said Young. “We definitely stopped to include that driver in our prayers.”
Most drivers, however, honk or wave in acknowledgment or appreciation. Others get out of their cars or step out of their businesses to supply food and water and words of encouragement. One bicyclist even stopped on the Cowen Creek Causeway several years ago to get off his bike, kneel and bow his head until the cross had passed. That’s a long way from Tom Wingo’s embarrassment.
The number of participants next year might change again and the route along with it. The end of the route will stay the same and a 6 p.m. service will once again take place at St. Helena Baptist.
The visual will once again be vibrant, but, unlike Conroy’s fictional creation, let’s hope no traffic tickets are written.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.