Good Friday Service

"Since 1985 the Diakonia Council of Churches has called Christians together on Good Friday to celebrate the central mystery of our faith: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. At the same time we have tried to conscientise and make people aware of Jesus suffering among us today.

In the first years of the Good Friday service we were in solidarity with, and prayed for, all who were cruelly oppressed by the apartheid regime: those who were killed, those who were displaced, those in prisons, detention, those on Robben Island. We prayed each year for the end of that vicious, unjust system. Our prayers were answered. Since then we have been in solidarity with those who suffer economic injustice, abused women and children, those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, the unemployed, those living in abject poverty.

We keep alive in the hearts of our brothers and sisters the unconditional love of Jesus on that first Good Friday and of Jesus calling us to minister to him in the poor and the most abandoned of our day. 'Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.' May this commemorative book be an inspiration to us all on our own pilgrimage of hope." (Bishop Barry Wood OMI, Chairperson: Diakonia Council of Churches)

On 1 April 2009, Diakonia unveiled this beautiful commemorative book, which chronicles the history of the Good Friday services. This hard-cover, full colour tribute to the dedication and spirit of thousands of faithful, who have congregated over the years to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, is a must for every church, library, school and any person who hears the call to respond to injustice in our society.

The book is richly illustrated with colour photographs and contains interesting archival material, much of which has not been published to date. One of the key aspects of the services are the posters which have been used to promote the service and which have been installed in places of worship and community gathering points throughout Durban over the years, such as these two used in 1987 and 1994. The book chronicles the history of the services, year by year, with each year's promotional poster featuring at the beginning of each chapter. The posters are likely to bring back memories for many people.

The services have been held in a variety of venues over the years, commencing in 1985 outside the old Durban Central prison in solidarity with trialists being held there. In 1987, the Service for Children in Detention was held at the Central Methodist Church in Durban, and in 1994 the poster on the right called people to the Emmanuel Catholic Cathedral.

1994 was also the year of the first democratic elections in South Africa, and the service, addressed by Dr Beyers Naude, mourned the deaths of the more than 8000 people who died in KwaZulu-Natal in the political violence which preceded these elections.

The Cathedral was packed to capacity and many more crammed the courtyard outside.

In 1985, the first procession wound its way through the streets of Durban after the dawn service. The silent procession of around 300 people was led by Bishop Michael Nuttall and the late Archbishop Denis Hurley, the founder of Diakonia Council of Churches. The cross was carried to the old Durban Central prison by leaders of Diakonia's member churches, and this tradition has been observed over the years.

The processions have grown in size over the years, with many thousands of people now joining in.

Observing silence during these processions has been a moving experience for the many thousands of people who have participated as they reflect on the message of the day, the theme and as they bear witness to the injustice perpetrated.

The processions have been led by church and civic leaders carrying various crosses which have each had a particular significance over the years. The book provides some inspiring insights from some of those who have led the services and others who have taken part in the carrying of the cross through the streets.

In later years, the procession was often led by the cross and crossbearers, who in turn were followed by a large banner bearing words reflecting the theme of the service and calling people to action. These banners are still used from time to time through the work of the organisation.

Over the years a variety of different crosses have been used in the services and processions and these have traditionally led the way to Durban City Hall for the closing ceremonies, which have all focussed on the flowering of the cross. This is a deeply symbolic gesture reminding us of the hope to be found in the cross despite the suffering and oppression which still exists in society. These crosses have led the procession carried by different groups of people representing the broader life of the church in Durban.

And in most cases the flowered crosses have been borrowed by congregations in the Durban area as very meaningful momentos of the Good Friday service. The book includes some interesting and moving stories related to these crosses and their symbolisms.

In 1998 the service focussed on HIV/AIDS and the cross was decorated with red ribbons to mark the occasion.

The many stories provide riveting reading and will guarantee a flood of memories for all who can relate to the various themes, as well as perhaps proving a source of deep motivation and resolve to attend for those who have not been priviledged to attend until now.

That the cross provides hope whilst reminding us of the suffering which still exists is indisputable. The only question which remains is what role we choose to play in this journey, this Pilgrimage of Hope.

The book can be ordered or purchased directly from Diakonia Council of Churches for only R100 (in SA only) plus R50 for postage and packaging. The price for overseas orders is US$ 80 or 56Euros, which includes bank charges, packing and postage.