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Article updated: 3/25/2013 11:06 PM

Villa Park church uses maze to tell Easter story

By Marie Wilson

Think kids and Easter and a variety of traditions come to mind -- egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, baked hams at family dinners -- but probably not mazes.

That's part of the reason one Villa Park church created its own Easter tradition that's half labyrinth and half stations of the cross.

The other reason Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church is sponsoring its third Easter Maze is to offer a hands-on experience to make the meaning of the season come to life for children and adults alike, said the Rev. Kevin Gushiken, the church's pastor.

The maze opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church, 206 W. St. Charles Road, and runs until Saturday. It takes about 40 minutes to progress through the 12-stop, self-guided maze, and Gushiken said he expects several hundred people to make the journey during the five-day run.

Those who want to experience the free maze will see a gym transformed with temporary low walls that create 12 rooms, each containing an interactive exhibit that teaches about the events in the life of Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter.

"In each room there are reflection questions and an activity, which is really good for kids and families, and it all relates around Good Friday and Easter," Gushiken said.

Hanging from a cross and moving a large boulder aren't part of the usual Easter celebrations for children, but versions of those activities all will be part of the maze, which took more than 30 volunteers about 10 hours to set up.

To create the effect of hanging from a cross, volunteers built a cross on one wall of the gym and added rungs on each side for maze visitors to hold onto.

"The idea is to let your feet dangle for a little bit," Gushiken said. "You get to feel your whole weight fall."

As dramatic as the cross is, Gushiken said he has gotten the most reaction to a section of the maze near the end, one more about atonement and forgiveness. In this room, visitors write their mistakes or failures on small sheets of paper and drop them into a pool of clear liquid. The liquid dissolves the writing on the paper, and the shortcomings disappear.

"We're trying to communicate that Christ washes all that away -- your failures and mistakes aren't held against you," Gushiken said.

Families often go through the maze together, and as many as six people will fit into each room at a time. A maximum of 80 to 90 people can fit in the maze at once, and when multiple groups are going through it, their whispered conversations mix and add to what Gushiken calls the maze's "tactile experience."

Lorry Davies is among church members who have gone through the maze. She said she was surprised by the power of the experience of traversing a darkened gym with lowered walls and imagining the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a new way.

"I was much more moved than I thought I would be," Davies said. "This just reached me very deeply."

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