While churches across Grant County began observing Lent yesterday, Ash Wednesday, many of them practice a bit differently from one another.
Pierce Church in Upland, St. Paul Catholic Parish in Marion and Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Marion each held Ash Wednesday services yesterday.
“Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, 40 days of fasting, preparing for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Easter,” said Father Christopher Roberts of St. Paul. “We engage in acts of prayer, extra prayer, giving to the poor and fasting, or obtaining from something that is a legitimate pleasure.”
During each of these services, church leaders placed ashes on the foreheads of the members of the church.
“Ashes are a sign throughout the Bible of repentance,” Roberts said. “It is a recognition that all of us are going to die and return to dust. It’s also a way to contemplate our mortality and how we are living in this life to prepare ourselves for the next.”
The service at Pierce Church consisted of poetry, music, painting and lots of silence for reflection.
“(Ash Wednesday) is the intentional time set apart to become aware of our humanity and the ways that we are separated from God,” said Hope Brown, the church’s director of connections and the service organizer. “(We) meditate on those things, but not just just for the fact of meditating on how sinful we are, but to make us aware of our need for God.”
Gethsemane held two Ash Wednesday services, which included traditional Episcopal liturgy, communion and the installation of ashes.
“I like to think of (Lent) as something that we’re doing together,” said Rev. Mindy Hancock, the priest at Gethsemane. “There can be a little bit of an unhealthy overthinking about things, like ‘What do I give up?’ or ‘Am I doing it right?’ or ‘I’m so sinful.’ In order to counter that, I like to think of Lent as something we do together.”
Gethsemane will practice fasting together, as well as breaking their fast together each Sunday of Lent.
“Something we do together is break the fast on Sundays of Lent because those are always a remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus and a celebration,” Hancock said.
Together, the church will also study “$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” and attend the author lecture at Indiana Wesleyan University in March.
The Episcopal Church is especially focused on matters of social justice, Hancock said, which is reflected in its Lent practices.
“Lent is an especially appropriate time to really turn our attention to suffering and oppression all over the world,” Hancock said. “(We) try to make the connection between our own fasts, prayers and giving with that larger picture of suffering and oppression in the world.”
St. Paul is the only Catholic parish in Grant County, Roberts said, and therefore the only local church that practices the traditional Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, or confession, during Lent.
“That’s something that I’m encouraging all of my parishioners to do during Lent,” Roberts said. “It’s something that ought to be regular, but is encouraged during Lent.”
Traditionally, Catholics obtain from eating meat during Lent, but Roberts said the most common thing to fast is desserts and alcoholic beverages.
“We do these spiritual exercises, not just to see how long we can give up sweets, but do things that can help us change our life and align it more with Jesus,” he said.
Brown approaches fasting from the perspective of a licensed counselor.
“Fasting is not for everyone. It can be really disordered,” Brown said. “We have to pay attention to (the act of fasting) because of eating disorders.”
Pierce Church encourages healthy fasting, such as giving up social media, but does not focus on rigorous restrictive practices.
“(Fasting can be) giving up something like social media, something that can really fill our time and keep us from connecting with God because we are so busy connecting with other people,” Brown said. “I definitely am not against those who God leads to give up certain foods, but a lot of us would do well to fast social media or TV or engage in a new spiritual practice and not just abstaining from things.”
A common misconception about Lent, according to Brown, is that Protestant religions do not participate in Lent because it is a Catholic tradition.
“People can think of Lent as just a bunch of rules and regulations, and they give up things without adding the meditative part,” Brown said. “It’s not just about giving up something. It’s about turning our hearts towards God and the cross and eventually to Easter.”
Members of Pierce Church are creating reflections for each day in the season of Lent, which will be posted on their social media. The reflections will include poetry and art based on the assigned daily scriptures.
The season of Lent can often cause people to feel guilty, according to Hancock.
“As we open our eyes to suffering and oppression in the world, there is naturally a sense of sadness and, to some extent, guilt,” Hancock said. “When we talk about guilt, there has to be a small room left for healthy guilt that is motivating for us to change and make the world better. I don’t really reserve a place in my own spirituality for that personal guilt that can be so paralyzing and not life-affirming and humanity affirming.”