The Great North Passion

I did not join the Good Friday service by the cross as I wanted to return to share the Great Northern Passion on the television at midday with my beloved.  The BBC in partnership with The Cultural Spring re-told the Passion Story, marking the last moments of Christ’s life with help from local communities.    In the lead up to the main event, shipping containers were housed in communities across the North East. Artists worked with the local communities to turn each container into a work of art, reflecting the spirit of the communities involved, as well as representing the Stations of the Cross. Shipping containers brought together to form a huge cross-shaped installation in Bents Park South Shields showing the path trodden by Christ on the way to his crucifixion. Fern Britton presented the special performances of poetry, a 1000 strong choir, an appearance by international opera star Graeme Danby, art installations, photography, a procession of witnesses, contemporary dancing and live music.

Amazing Grace was sung beautifully by Alexandra Burke. The procession entered carrying flags whilst she sang. The Fish Quay at North Shields was the first venue with the theme ‘What is faith.’   It showed community team work. They had a large scale fishing boat on a shipping container and a board with personal truths written on it and a net filled with people.  The first station of the cross was Jesus condemned to death.

Futureheads Dave Craig and Ross Millard sang with the choirs ‘Down to the river to pray.’ Exhaustion is the second station of the cross. The sense of Jesus suffering and feeling of abandonment by God on the cross was conveyed through a vicar, who was at the end of her tether when her daughter was seriously injured in a car accident and.  She was on her own in the container and then the door was opened and light streamed in.  An artist Mohammed used aerosol to do a picture of a man in chains, lost and alone, with a bottle with hope written on it.  Boldon school sports college worked with Bad Taste Cru dance group to produce the performance ‘Burden’ – a dance showing the students dancing but not able to get free.

A choir sang ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ by Mozart accompanied by a band.  A mother described the death of her son in a terrible accident at the age of 13 and the loss which was and continued to be painful. When she was told her son had fallen off a swing she did not think it could be anything serious, but he had swelling on the brain and he could not be saved.  Photos of her son and a video was displaying in her container as she remembered his short life.  ‘Jesus meets his mother’ is the next station of the cross. Alexandra Burke sang, ‘Where do hearts go.’

Saint Veronica was supposed to have wiped our Lord’s face to relieve his suffering.  A local performance poet had a workshop with students from South Shields Community School noting random acts of kindness, and she spoke her poem about the restored lifeboat, interspersed with reflections from the students in a powerful spoken poem about acts of kindness.

The next station of the cross, Jesus falls for a second time, introduced us to Centre Point in Sunderland which was an outreach centre for the young unemployed at Roker.  A young unemployed man, Djanny Wele, who had lost his mother, felt his life was over until Centre Point in Sunderland set him back onto the road to recovery. He and members of the church community at St Andrew’s church in Roker explored the themes of loss and pain and isolation, together with the Opera Singer Graeme Danby and a renowned composer they put together the song, ‘Searching’ which was sung by Graeme and the community choir.

The next station of the cross was, ‘Women of Jerusalem’ and it was presented by African women working with Tees Valley Arts.  They said that there was always a welcome for the stranger in an African home.  They sang, ‘Kwako – Stranger’ which included words such as ‘when the stranger comes knocking in the middle of the night we will open the door and provide all kinds of help’ and ‘welcome people to your place’.  The singing was accompanied by drums.

The next station of the cross was set in Ashington, known as the largest village had been a mining community. An ex-miner spoke about it. The artist advised the community as they engraved the long table with the Ashington Memories.  It is important to help one another. It is about loss and resilience; still here still broken; bruised not broken; been down but now rising up; women are strong. They did a clog dance as posters were held up displaying words such as, ‘still here, still strong’. Groups of school children repeated the words. A Graffiti artist worked with the community and the only chaplain of the arts helped to create a piece of graffiti art of a butterfly on the bridge. One of the support workers used to be involved in crime but now helped young people in the community to make up for his former life of crime.

The final station of the cross was ‘The Death of Jesus.’ It featured the lost village of Marsden which was demolished. The former community went into poses indicating their reaction to death and an artist created a composite of the poses made into an impressive steel figure symbolising the death of Christ.  The folk singer Bella Hardy sang ‘Abide with me,’ beautifully’. As flags were brought forward, and we looked back at the images created, the final song was led by Alexandra Burke, joined by the other lead singers and the choirs as they sang ‘Higher and higher.’ I found the Great North Passion very moving, which showed us how Jesus still suffers alongside us, as we experience our life struggles.

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