PALMETTO — The children of House of God Church in Palmetto call Ruth Spencer “Grandma.” The adults know her as Deaconess Ruth.
As one of the oldest members of the church and great-grandmother to three of the leaders of the church’s youth group, no doubt she has earned the admiration of many.
After all, Sunday was her 89th Palm Sunday and next Sunday will be her 89th Easter.
And yet, a child’s excitement filled her face when talking about Palm Sunday.
“I never worry about where I am going or when,” Spencer said. “I know where I will be.”
House of God Church joined hundreds of churches all over Manatee and Sarasota counties in observing Palm Sunday, when Jesus Christ initiated the events that led to his resurrection on Easter.
According to the Gospels, Christ began his final journey on a donkey to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday about 2,000 years ago.
His followers made a saddle for him out of their cloaks and laid palm fronds and small branches of trees on the road before him. Many believe Christ knew the fate that lay before him, a crucifixion carried out by Roman soldiers.
Palm Sunday is more than just a reciting of the Bible story. It’s the day when Christians begin to feel excitement that the holiest day on their calendar is near, said The Rev. Ted Tillis of House of God church.
“What Palm Sunday reminds us is that Jesus sacrificed for us,” said Tillis, whose church will hold its Easter service beginning 11:15 a.m. Sunday at 116 17th St. E.
Spencer and others at the church go back far enough to remember “Easter Monday” when some Manatee County schools were closed so children could go on Easter egg hunts.
“When I was younger, I got all dressed up on Easter,” Spencer said with a grin. “Those were the young days. I had my own Easter basket as well.”
House of God Church is one of roughly 25 historically African-American churches in Manatee County. Like most, it is striving to add young people to its ranks, which number around 75.
But the church has a core of young people who said they are excited about Easter and the idea that a man could rise from the dead and promise everlasting life for others.
They will perform two Easter plays Sunday which tell that story, said Deaconess Dianne Spencer, Ruth’s daughter-in-law who is superintendent of the school’s Sunday school program.
Yasmyn Spencer, 12, Ruth Spencer’s great-granddaughter, purchased a blue Easter dress which she will wear for the performance. Brea Peterson, 14, who plays the cello, violin and viola at Lee Middle School, said her grandmother, church Deaconess Carolyn Peterson, will get her up at 7 a.m. on Easter morning.
“I think the excitement is believing that Jesus died and rose again,” Brea said.
Colorful dresses and doing your hair special are all about saying that the coming week is a celebration in the making, Brea said.
“I’ll do my hair straight, but I don’t know what dress I’ll wear yet,” Brea said.
Titus Humphrey, 15, from King Middle, is a keyboard player and is Miss Ruth’s great-grandson, as is Titus’ brother, Joel, 13. The Humphrey boys are leaders in the church’s youth program. Joel plays the drums.
“If Jesus rose, I can do anything in my life, too,” Joel said.