Tag Archives: Congregational

If you don’t already observe Lent, consider giving traditions a try

Two and a half weeks ago, Lent began for a large portion of Christianity with Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches begin observing Lent on March 13). Some local Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal clergy brought “ashes to the people” in downtown Anchorage that day. I applaud this approach because it brings clergy to the people, instead of people expecting to have to go to clergy. This may be Christianity at its best.

“Sharing ashes on the street is an opportunity for Christians to practice very public theology, said participant Nico Romeijn-Stout, pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John United Methodist Church and one of those clergy. “Our practice was to take a moment with each person asking their name and how we can be in prayer with and for them. Even in a short moment a relationship was formed. What was striking for me was that the only people who received ashes from me were a couple of homeless men. One said that he hadn’t been ‘blessed’ in years. When we take the risk to do ministry with people where they are, we meet Christ in profound ways.”

Taking “ashes to the street” did not substitute for the Ash Wednesday services those clergy later held in their own churches.

Many Catholic clergy feel ashes should be applied in the church as a rite.

“We take ashes to the homebound, but the distribution of ashes is best done in the sacred assembly at Mass,” said St. Benedict’s Rev. Leo Walsh. “Catholics understand Lent, and all the associated rites, as a communal act of penance by the whole believing community. “It’s possible those attitudes may change over time, as I’m noticing an increasing numbers of news stories of Catholic and Episcopal clergy taking ashes to the street.

Regardless of how one receives their ashes, on the street, in bed, or at church, this rite is an awe-inspiring moment in which one can take stock and recognize we’re mortal and will return to dust.

During my personal preparation for Lent I came across an excellent guide prepared by the Society of St. Andrew, which sponsors a gleaning ministry for food rescue and feeding the hungry. The society’s 44-page downloadable PDF guide offers a wealth of Scripture, reflections, and prayers for Lent.

During Lent many churches host extra evening services or other activities.

First Congregational Church is conducting Tuesday evening Taizé-style services at 5:30 p.m. through March 22. The services will include music, chants, times of silence and readings from the Bible and other sources, but no sermons or discussion.

Many more churches’ Lent activities are offered on Wednesday evenings. Central Lutheran Church has soup suppers, study, and a service through March 16. All Saints Episcopal Church offers a soup supper at 6 p.m. followed by a lesson on spiritual gifts. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having Lenten soup suppers at 6 p.m. followed by a discussion on the intersection of Lenten themes and immigration. First United Methodist Church is serving Lenten suppers through March 30 at 6 p.m. with a Lenten study following. Anchorage Lutheran Church offers Lenten worship at 7 p.m. with supper at 6 p.m. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church provides a soup supper and fellowship at 5:45 p.m. followed by Holden Evening Prayer worship at 6:30 p.m. Joy Lutheran in Eagle River serves a soup supper at 6:15 p.m. followed by Lenten worship at 7 p.m. Much can be learned from partaking of these simple suppers, and the brief services connected with them. It’s a time for personal growth.

Instead of Lenten suppers and services, local Catholics, focus on the exercising what the Rev. Tom Lily calls the three Ts: “Time, talent, and treasure are common terms we use when talking about being good stewards of all God has entrusted to us. How do we generously give a proportionate amount of our time, talent and material resources back to glorify God through serving our neighbor?”

For example, Lent projects in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where Lily is the pastor, address all three T’s by supporting Catholic Social Services’ St. Francis Food Pantry. Each member is encouraged to participate in the Knights of Columbus’ “40 Cans 4 Lent” campaign, where 40 cans of food, one for each day of Lent, are donated. Members also donate funds for perishable dairy, fruits and vegetables. parish members also provide hands-on assistance at St. Francis house, as well as actively advocate support for the federal SNAP program through after-church letter-writing efforts.

Local pastor, the Rev. Rick Benjamin, raised in a Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition that didn’t observe Lent calls himself a non-Lenter but connects with the custom of fasting and prayer as performed as Lenten tradition.

“Many important decisions in our church’s history, and in my own life, came out of times of dedicated prayer and fasting,” he said. Rick’s local relationships made him aware of the liturgical calendar and Lent. He became intrigued, saying, “Lent was similar to fasting, sort of an extended semifast, and a time of self-denial and preparation for Resurrection Sunday.” His experience with Lent has been positive. He points out, “I have benefited from Lent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other ‘non-Lenters’ like me out there, I suggest you give Lent a try.”

My tradition was also a non-Lent observing one. Over the years, as I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve been exposed to this meaningful time of the church year dedicated to self-examination and rethinking one’s relationship with God. The music I hear in Lent-observing churches during this time becomes more thoughtful and intense. Like Benjamin, I encourage you to explore Lent, by attending any of the church activities I’ve noted above. I think you’ll be glad you went.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Huddling with the Congregationals

[img_assist|nid=123950|title=First Congregational Church Sign|desc=First Congregational’s sign on Northern Lights Boulevard prominently identifies this landmark church.|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=79]
I had been curious about the Congregationalists that worship at First Congregational Church. In passing their soaring sanctuary at 2610 E. Northern Lights, I often wondered what manner of service was offered in this beautiful location. Sunday, May 4, I selected this church for my weekly church visit.

FCC’s sole service commences at 10:30 a.m., a bit earlier than other churches with a single service. I find it important to do a little homework prior to doing a new church visit as worship times do vary.

This is easier today with the internet access most technologically progressive churches use. Sometimes I have to do some extensive searching of a churches website just to find the times of services.

In a future column, I plan to suggest 10 things churches can do to ensure their information is clearly user friendly and available. For example, there should be a clickable link on every churches homepage titled WORSHIP TIMES. You can’t believe how often this is buried in some obscure place.

Being greeted

Upon entering the church I was greeted by the official greeters, a husband and wife team who offered the typical official but sterile greeting.

During the official “meet n’ greet” segment, I shook about 7 hands with similar effect. So far in all of my church visits in Anchorage, only one person inquired as to my name and whether I was a visitor.

Having a long career in sales, I have a hard time understanding meeting someone with whom I might be doing business, without inquiring as to their name. Churches can do much in learning how people buy products. Mainly product choices are based on the believability or crediblity of the sales person, and it all starts with being friendly and exchanging names

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Look and sound of the church

First Congregational’s beautiful architecture is even more inspiring in the interior. There is abundant parking available.|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=199]FCC has a set order of service typical of many mainstream protestant churches. A fairly musical church, they use the organ and a small but surpisingly good choir to augment their service, both of which I considered to be pleasing to the ear. The service lasts about one hour.

FCC is a beautiful church on the interior and features wood beam accents and a soaring ceiling. This huge church sanctuary was only filled 1/3 to 1/2 of capacity.

Listening to the message

The Senior Minister and presider was Rev. Mark E. Long whose topic, Huddled in Faith, dwelt on worship styles and church community over the ages. He emphasized the growth from the center of worship being the ark of the covenant, a movable symbol, to an emphasis on bricks and mortar. Unfortunately what got sacrificed was the emphasis on inner faith.

Rev. Long said we need to answer the question of what is church really, emphasizing that we are the church, but we must give up what we have to others in order to survive.

That is the riddle of faith communities. This certainly trued up with Long’s remarks about Congregationalists emphasis on funding two major initiatives.

Special initiatives

One project is the endowment of a Center for Congregational Leadership at Olivet College to focus on equipping individuals and churches for ministry in both traditional and emerging forms. The other initiative is to increase the knowledge, influence and growth of the Congregational Way via the creation of a Fund for Congregational Growth and Renewal. This will provide member churches with financial resources for new and renewed ministries.

Long was erudite and had good thoughts to share. I found it difficult to follow him due to his reliance on a printed text. So few ministers ascend the pulpit today without a script. God must be amused because there is so much to share. Maybe these initiatives will bear fruit and I’ll want to worship again at this church. Until then, I have a sense this congregation is still searching, but at least they are searching.