People of different Christian congregations and traditions will come together and walk as one congregation today to usher in the pre-Christmas season known as Advent in the 42nd annual ecumenical Advent Walk.
Advent -- from the Latin word for "coming" -- includes the four Sundays that precede Christmas Day and is a time for preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Since 1977, downtown Paducah churches have come together to share in the Advent season by going from one church to another.
Today, participants will share the theme "Jesus, Light of the World" as they walk the route beginning at 4 p.m. at Broadway United Methodist Church and move to Washington Street Baptist Church, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church and end at Grace Episcopal Church.
Those wanting to park at Grace Episcopal so they can easily retrieve their cars after the walk may take a bus from there to Broadway UMC at 3:30 p.m. The walk is expected to last until 6 p.m., spending about 15 minutes at each church. The entire route for those walking back to Broadway United Methodist from Grace Episcopal is about 0.9 miles.
A reception and fellowship time will be held at Grace Episcopal at the end of the walk. A youth gathering will be held at Pizza Inn after the walk.
A lantern holding a candle will lead the way along the Advent Walk, an annual tradition that also follows this year's theme.
"We've done the Advent Walk forever, but last year, we started doing things during Lent and Easter and doing some other things together," said Lora Jean Gowan, the pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church. "So, we're trying to get together as a kind of ecumenical kind of group more and more.
"All of the churches -- their choirs will sing, and we'll have prayers. It is lots of fun. The staffs of the churches working together -- that's the really wonderful thing, too, planning worship together, and we all take different parts. It's an exercise in what things could be, I think."
Gowan said she enjoys being a part of a longstanding group that is "not just Methodist folks" but has different people with different traditions. The group of churches is not a formal organization, and Gowan said she hopes more churches join with them for the events.
"I think it's important in today's world to get outside of your own little box and get to know and love other people," she said.
Raynarldo Henderson, the pastor at Washington Street Baptist Church, said he has taken part in the Advent Walk for the last 26 years.
"Always, it's a great time for anticipating the arrival on Earth of Christ, and it's particularly significant when you can worship with other brothers and sisters of different colors, cultures and denominations," he said. "We have come to appreciate, I think, what each church brings to the worship experience: how they worship and letting us in on the things that are significant about Christ from their faith perspective."
Zach Ault, the pastoral minister at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, said that the Advent Walk was "a great endeavor" in its encouragement of unity among people.
"It's kind of a privilege to get together with all of (the downtown churches) and celebrate," he said. "The church is called 'the unity,' and what better time to celebrate that than Christmas and Easter?
"There's a difference in being a downtown church versus being out in the suburbs or out in the county because we see the need. Our doorbells are ringing every day with all sorts of people that need help. So, us traveling by candlelight from church to church - I hope they see it, that they join in and that they feel some hope. That's what the Advent season is all about, anyway."
The Rev. Dr. Jenna Goggins, the pastor at First Presbyterian Church, said this kind of community fellowship is needed now more than ever.
"The Advent Walk is a great expression of our ecumenical faith," she said. "It gives us a chance to come together and understand that the love of God that we express during this season is so much stronger and more powerful in our lives than any of the differences that might divide us.
"In a world where we see so many divisions these days, the unity that we have through our faith is an expression of Christianity that is so important for us to share with those in our city and our neighborhoods."
The Rev. Charles Uhlik, the rector at Grace Episcopal Church, said the fellowship that is a great part of the Walk makes it a special annual event.
"It's a wonderful way to get to know our brothers and sisters in the downtown area and their different churches and to celebrate and worship with them, the spirit of the coming season of Advent and Christmas," he said. "Our congregants are very supportive and desire that (fellowship) as well. Walking to each others' congregation homes - the churches - is a part of that wonderful spirit.
"That's how the pastors, all five of us, see our churches: We're neighbors working together to do the work of God in the downtown area, and we try to express that to the city of Paducah, too."
Uhlik added that it has rained in recent Advent Walks, but that did not stop participants from making the circuit.
"(The rain) has never drowned out the spirit of warmth and love for each other to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas," he said.