I have a conflicted relationship with the season of Lent. It is not easy for me to sit still; I find it difficult to act in particularly pious ways (like fasting, extended prayers, ritualistic spiritual practices); and I certainly don’t love religious language reminding me about my own sinfulness or claiming a general “wretchedness” somehow inherent in all human beings.
I am quite sure that I am not alone in this. People very close to me (who may or may not live in my own home) freely express, throughout each Lenten season, their frustration with the language, expectations, and general drudgery often imposed by churches in their Lenten liturgies. More than a couple of folks in the Grace community have shared similar sentiments. And a striking data point reinforces this truth about us: in both of the last two years at Grace, four of our lowest attended Sunday morning services were during the season of Lent. Last year, our average Sunday attendance--for all of 2019--would have neared or surpassed 80; but instead, because of low worship attendance during Lent, it remained in mid 70’s. (for reference, our average Sunday attendance in 2017 was 56.) So, it may be that many of us find Lent to be good time for a little “break” from church. 😊
This year, we are praying and planning for a meaningful, inspiring, and joy-filled experience of Lent. (We are not putting away the maracas this year!) We will incorporate elements in our liturgy we pray will inspire hope, meaning and gladness even as we are careful not to shun the particular gifts of the season to guide us in repentance, lament, and solidarity with a broken and hurting world. We are scheduling special formation and fellowship programming to inspire growth in a centered and purposeful life.
I hope you will show up for Lent this year. I hope we will all feel compelled to keep coming together for worship, learning, and fellowship during this season. I hope you will find that it is not a drudgery.
On Sundays, our Spanish-language Sunday School class will continue meeting to explore the meaning of the Sacraments and our English-language class will engage a book discussion on Crossan’s and Borg’s book “The Last Week.” On Sunday evenings, we will replace our regular offering of “Connections” worship with a special Contemplative Practices and Compline offering in my study (unless our group ends up too large for that space!). And on Wednesdays, we’ll continue with the tradition of a simple soup supper followed by a presentation from area clergy or lay leaders. This year, the theme of the Lenten Suppers is “Discernment, Call, and God’s Will.”
Even though we may be conflicted about Lent in our personal experience and spirituality, I’m confident that it will be better when we’re together. As we travel the Lenten path this year, toward the glorious resurrection and abundant life of Easter, let us continue coming together, learning and praying together, growing together, and moving forward into God’s dream for our community. Together.
Let’s all keep showing up!
The Rev. Scott Painter
I serve as the Vicar of Grace. A word from our English heritage in the Episcopal Church, "Vicar" means that I serve as the priest and pastor of this congregation.