A wondrous cross, indeed

Family Matters, By Claire Mullen, April 2022

In years to come, when I reflect on the impact that COVID-19 had on all our lives, I hope that along with the memories of masks, quarantines and so much uncertainty, I will also recall with fondness some of the beautiful gestures of love and unification that were born out of that incredibly challenging time. Gestures just like the one made by one Fayetteville family intent on spreading the Easter message to their community.


For Emma and Landon Bentham, it was hard to imagine not being able to worship in church on Easter Sunday in 2020, in the same place where they’d married, dedicated both of their babies and spent so many previous Sundays in fellowship with other faithful members of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church.


While the Benthams could certainly tune in to a virtual sermon preached in an empty sanctuary, they would miss being in-person with their friends and family (Emma’s parents, Mark and Mary Rice, are also long-time Snyder members). Being able to take their toddler son and his little sister, then only several months old, to church for her first Easter at their big, beautiful church on Westmont Drive. 


And then, Landon and Emma had an idea. As Landon recalls, “We decided that with all that was happening with COVID and families not being able to worship in church buildings, we could do something to unite our neighborhood and community beyond.” 


He gathered the tools, treated lumber and chicken wire he would need to construct their special project and took to his makeshift workshop. After several hours of measuring, sawing and nailing, there in the Benthams’ garage stood an 8-foot tall wooden cross. A cross that would be placed at the entrance to Vanstory Hills subdivision, visible to all who pass on Morganton Road.


The Benthams are careful to point out the symbolism and importance of how and when they planned to erect the cross.


“We put the cross up, barren, on Good Friday after Maundy Thursday to represent the empty cross after Christ’s death and resurrection,” said Emma. “The community adding flowers transforms the cross into a living symbol of Christ alive once again.” 


With the help of several neighbors and friends, Landon loaded the cross, hauled it to his neighborhood’s entrance, placed it carefully in the grass and went home to wait and see what would happen.


Word of the new Vanstory cross quickly spread across social media, along with the Benthams’ open invitation to anyone who wanted to join in filling the empty cross with flowers. Cars began to trickle into the neighborhood and park along Northview Drive to visit the cross. Vanstory neighbors strolled from their homes, freshly-cut backyard blooms in hand. The cross started to come alive. And by Easter Sunday, it was full. Not a square inch of chicken wire visible beneath emerald magnolia leaves, lacy fern fronds, blue hydrangeas, camellias in gorgeous hues of pink and red, yellow daisies, budding tulips, sprigs of Japanese maple. The cross, once barren, had been transformed, just as the Benthams hoped it would be.  


Over the past two Easters, a visit to the Vanstory cross has become a tradition for many residents of the neighborhood and beyond. Lots of folks now use the cross as a gathering place for photos of their families in their Easter best.


Kerry Wheeler, a fellow Vanstory resident and friend of the Benthams, reflects on what it has meant to her family of five.


“Having the cross at the front of the neighborhood is such a wonderful reminder to our family of the hope and love we find in Jesus. It has become a conversation starter with our children about his death and resurrection. We look forward to watching it ‘bloom’ every year,” Wheeler said. “We are thankful to the Benthams for the cross which will forever be part of our Easter tradition.”  


Today, Landon and Emma, along with their now 2- and 5-year-old children, are happy to be back and so very active at the church they call home. But they have no plans to stop placing their special cross out for their community on Good Friday.


The Bentham family invites you to pick a flower from your yard and pay a visit to the cross this Easter season, or even just to slow down a little as you traverse Morganton Road to admire the blossoming cross and be reminded of the hope and love that it represents.