Christian faithful throughout the community made their way to church Wednesday morning to celebrate the Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday. The day marks the start of Lent, 40 days of prayer and penance, which ends Easter Sunday.
Local church leaders say it is a time for personal reflection and betterment.
“We urge everyone to use the disciplines of self examination and repentance, to study scripture, especially, and to do works of charity,” Father Thomas Miles, of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said. “Doing things like, maybe, an extra offering for some charity.”
Miles said part of the Lenten message is self-denial. He said people do that in a variety of ways including fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from meat on Fridays. Abstention from meat or other rich foods represents a typical form of self-denial, but people are abstaining in other ways as well.
Miles said some people are going without television or computer games for the duration of Lent. Miles himself has removed all the CDs from his car and turned off his car’s radio, which will remain off until Easter.
“Our lives are so full of noises and stimulation that silence doesn’t have a chance,” Miles said. “If we go silent, then maybe we have a chance to listen.”
Father Joseph Popelka, of Seven Dolors Catholic Church, said people give up something in their lives with the goal of self improvement and the hope of a permanent change. Popelka added those sacrifices are important to strengthen spirituality. Father Don Zimmerman, of St. Thomas More Church, agreed and said people can even achieve greater peace and joy with God knowing what they have accomplished.
“The three areas we kind of talk about are almsgiving, fasting and prayer,” Popelka said. “So we become more focused on our relationship with Christ.”
Pastor Keith Wiens, of First Lutheran Church, said the church’s specific message during Lent will be renewal.
“During our midweek services, we are tracing how God uses water throughout the Bible to bring new life to us,” Wiens said.
To spread these messages and to accommodate an influx of churchgoers, many churches have added services and activities to their schedules. One of the most frequent additions is the Stations of the Cross, or Way of the Cross.
Revs. Miles, Popelka and Zimmerman said their respective churches will offer the Stations each Friday during Lent. The tradition involves a series of artistic representations depicting Christ’s final hours, carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Often the depictions are placed at intervals around the church, and people will physically move from station to station.
St. Paul’s and St. Thomas More will also participate in Operation Rice Bowl, a Catholic Relief Service program, which takes donations to provide food to the needy throughout the world. Zimmerman said St. Thomas More will also be encouraging donations to the Flint Hills Breadbasket and the Seven Dolors food pantry.
Miles said every Wednesday, St. Paul’s will have a soup supper at 6 p.m. and Zimmerman said St. Thomas More, in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, will have a fish fry this Friday at 6 p.m.
First Lutheran church will also have additional services on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and St. Paul’s will have children’s liturgies with puppets on Sundays and classes throughout Lent focusing on St. Paul and his letters.
They each believe Lent is something with which people in the community are earnestly invested—and not just going through the motions.
“It’s not about making up a rule,” Miles said. “It is about drawing near to God, and I think people really want to do that.”