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Experiencing Lent and Holy Week with old and new traditions

Posted: March 19 2023 at 01:53 PM

Lent has always been considered an important time in the worship and discipleship life of a community of faith. Lent is a time for the church to journey together toward Easter and reaffirm their baptismal covenant. It is an opportunity for self-examination and reflection, as modeled by Jesus in Matthew 4: 1-11 when he prayed and fasted for 40 days before beginning his ministry.  It can also be a time of great creativity and innovation, even while maintaining valued and sacred traditions. Many congregations and ministries across the conference are participating in tried and true traditions, as well as looking toward something new.

In the River Cluster (Ottawa, Marseilles, Seneca, Norway, Millington, and Serena), churches are coming together on Maundy Thursday to have a seder-inspired meal. A few pastors wanted to join their congregations to do something together. “After a successful history of carols service for Advent, we wanted to keep the momentum going and started planning for a joint Maundy Thursday Service,” shared Rev. Megan Thompson from Seneca: First UMC and Marseilles UMC. The service features dynamic visuals that will include adding red paint on a doorway frame that later will be transformed into a cross during worship.

Warren Umc Pancake Line

Hungry patrons wait in a long line for the specialty pancakes at Warren UMC

In Warren, the local churches are joining in another way. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church recently hired a Sunday-only pastor. Anticipating they needed someone to help with Lent and Easter events, Rev. Matthew Smith at Warren UMC reached out to their Lutheran neighbors. The two churches are now working together throughout Lent and looking for ways to stay connected in the future. “Ecumenism and connectionalism are central to small-town ministry,” said Rev. Smith. They started the partnership off with a Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper fundraiser to benefit both churches, which featured 9 different kinds of pancakes. Patrons could choose one full stack of a flavor or pick and choose between rainbow, Lucky Charms™, Fruity Pebbles™, German chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, snickerdoodle, Oreo™, Mardi Gras, and traditional buttermilk. The response was so great that people were lined up out the door, and seating was limited. The local Boy Scouts were on hand to help deliver and bus tables, while the Girl Scouts had a booth selling cookies. The joint Lenten activities are continuing with a weekly soup supper and Bible study, Maundy Thursday supper, Good Friday tenebrae service, and a Resurrection Easter egg hunt on Holy Saturday.

Joining in with the community is a way to take time to reflect on our faith outside of the church. Rockford Urban Ministries hosts an Annual Good Friday Walk for Justice that has been an annual Holy Week practice, celebrating its 38th year in 2023. The walk is open to any who wants to join in prayers for the city. The participants carry an 8-foot, 50-pound wooden cross with them. It begins with a prayer against violence in the city and stops at places in the Rockford downtown, reflecting upon the stations of the Way of the Cross. “The 14 stations, or stops, go through the downtown area, most representing the community’s assets, such as Luther Center and the Public Library,” says  Stanley Campbell, director of Rockford Urban Ministries.

Christ Umc Layette Project

Phyllis Melenas and Bonnie Holmgaard are two of the women who dedicate themselves to the Lenten Layette project at Christ UMC in Rockford.

Lenten community acts of service can help people put their discipleship into action. The women from Christ UMC in Rockford have been actively collecting for their Layette Project for over 40 years. They coordinate the sewing, purchasing, and collection of onesies, sleepers, socks, hats, bibs, blankets, and little fleece hoodies. Some of the women are even crocheting them personally. The items are then donated to the Crusader Clinic, which helps at-risk mothers and babies as they start their lives together. “Extending love and care is important to our church,” explained Deaconess Joy Hayag. “These women understand motherhood and love babies. This project warms and comforts both the mothers and babies in need.”

Lenten meals are common in many churches as a way to fellowship and set aside time for study. During Lent, Bethany UMC in Aurora is reviving a weekly Lenten potluck titled “Dollar Dinners” on Wednesdays. Participants are asked to bring a dish to share, a dollar and/or a non-perishable food donation. First UMC of West Chicago is hosting Wednesday night Soup Suppers, focusing on the book Lent in Plain Sight by Jill Duffield.

Cantatas and concerts as also a way for many congregations to honor Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  These musical celebrations provide a time for reflection, often including a portrayal of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  First UMC in Dixon is hosting the band Heirborn for an “I Am So Blessed” Lenten concert on Good Friday. Good Shepherd UMC in Oswego is featuring a cantata by their One A ‘Chord choir on Easter Sunday.

No matter how you or your church chooses to participate in Lent and Holy Week, remember that spending these days in prayerful preparation can help enrich your celebration of Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday.

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