Each year, well before Epiphany ends, I’m asked a question by many of the parishioners at St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta, Georgia, “Are the children going to make their Alleluia Butterflies this year?” It is not just because I fear being run out of town on the very rails that brought the founders of St. James to our railroad centered-city, that I always answer, “Absolutely!” Our Alleluia Butterflies are weatherproof creations that we make and place all around the grounds of St. James to herald the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning.
Early in Epiphany, I gather colorful art foam sheets, templates of butterfly shapes - both large and small - religious and springtime art foam stickers, jewels, craft glue, circle hole punches, black chenille stems, and welding rods. In addition, I locate our symbols of Christ cards, which are from the Episcopal Children’s Curriculum.
On the last Sunday of Epiphany, we reserve Church School time for the much-anticipated making of our Alleluia Butterflies! As a whole group, we discuss Lent, then talk about symbols of Easter and of Christ, as we display the ECC cards with illustrations of those symbols.
Then out come the supplies and we begin tracing, cutting, and decorating the butterflies. The older elementary children draw their symbols with black pen or permanent marker, then adorn them with a few foam stickers for additional color. A thorax is cut from a coordinating color and glued to the butterfly for extra strength. Holes are punched at the top, and chenille stems are threaded through and curled to mimic antennae.
The preschool teachers usually precut two butterflies for each child, one to decorate with the Easter symbol stickers, and one to design and take home, with an extra sheet of tissue paper for wrapping. The “cocoons” are then hidden under beds or in closets until Easter morning. Early on we found that the wee ones were so delighted with their creations, that they did not want to leave church without taking one home!
The teens and adults are certainly not left out. A butterfly-making station with all the needed supplies, plus directions, is prepared in our Parish Hall. Even though children make their own creation in Church School, families often enjoy fashioning another butterfly or two together.
After a bit of drying time, the butterflies are gathered and processed through the church halls to the sounds of a recorded Gregorian Chant, then“buried” in the basement of our Parish Hall.
As the end of Lent approaches, a volunteer and I bring the butterflies out of their box long enough to cut two horizontal slits in each, accommodating the welding rod upon which the butterfly will be placed. After initially thinking wooden rods would work, I came upon welding rods as a strong, yet flexible mounting – one that would allow the butterflies to sway in the wind and suggest their flight. I located a welding supply company, and they helped me determine that 2.4mm rods would do the job. The rods are bent back in a 45 degree angle, about 8 inches from one end. The angled end of the rod is threaded through the slits in the butterfly and secured at the back with wide, clear tape then returned to the basement.
Late in the afternoon on Easter Eve, volunteers gather to “plant” the butterflies around our church grounds. St. James is at the corner of two heavily traveled streets in our town, so there is much ground to cover, and lots of exposure for the creations. As we busy ourselves, we often have passers-by roll down their car windows and ask us questions, as well as walkers stopping for an explanation. St. James’ Christian education takes place on the streets of Marietta, too!
Although parishioners and visitors see the butterflies as they come to the Easter Vigil, Easter morning is when the butterflies can really be admired. The newest butterflies are placed just outside the main church entrance, so that the children can more easily find their art, a tradition that for St. James’ is much like an Easter egg hunt! Older butterflies are searched for as well, as the youth and families seem to enjoy finding the butterflies they made when they were younger. It is a beautiful time in many ways!
I cannot imagine Easter at St. James without our Alleluia Butterflies. They have become a tradition that is meaningful for the children, their parents, and me – a creative way to bury our alleluias, and to experience the joy of Easter in a truly intergenerational way.