Lent season approaches

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

Beginning March 9, many Shelby County citizens will sacrifice something they love for the following 40 days.

Wednesday, March 9, or Ash Wednesday, will officially begin the season of Lent.

“Lent is a season that’s observed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and other main-line churches,” said Reverend John Wesley of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Montevallo. “I’m not sure a lot of evangelical churches celebrate Lent.”

The season begins on Ash Wednesdays, when churches hold services to commemorate the season. Traditionally, participants wear a sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads, Wesley said.

“The whole idea is for us to consciously and intentionally consider our mortality,” he said. “Life is short, and therefore we need to make it purposeful. We need to be spiritually purposeful.”

Reverend Steve Strange, senior pastor of Lakeview, Pelham’s First United Methodist Church, explained the details of the tradition.

“Lent is actually longer than 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday,” he said. “I usually do a sermon, and we impose the ashes on everyone’s head. They’re the palm branches that were burnt the year before.

“The ashes go along with the repentance part,” he said. “It’s the remembrance that we are mortal beings, going to pass out of this world.”

Fat Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday, and therefore, the beginning of Lent offers a time of repentance.

“Since Lent is a season of fasting, you were supposed to use up all of your lard, butter, whole cream, anything that was predominantly fat, and a lot of churches have adopted the tradition of having a pancake supper Tuesday evening,” Wesley said.

Strange drew the correlation from Fat Tuesday to the final celebration of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras.

“Fat Tuesday is just the last day of Mardi Gras. With Louisiana and the South being a huge Catholic region, (the people) wanted a cleansing. That’s why they went from Fat Tuesday into the Lent season,” Strange said. “I almost think (people think) Fat Tuesday is a license to do whatever you want to do. Go out and stuff yourself, and then you have 40 days to get back on track.”

Traditionally, participants give up certain vices or detriments in order to achieve betterment or a more spiritual life, Wesley said. In current times, however, the tradition has begun to change.

“We live in such a fast-paced lifestyle anymore that the majority of people in most churches do not take it as seriously as they used to,” Wesley said. “The whole idea of giving something up for Lent has gotten trivialized in recent history.

“Instead of giving up something that would make you more spiritually in tune, people give up chocolate or something trivial like that.”

Strange sees a similar trend in his church, but encourages the sacrifice nonetheless.

“TV is a big one (people give up). We’ve had people give up computer, like Facebook. We had one girl who was addicted to text messaging, and she said it was the hardest thing she’d ever given up,” Strange said. “We have several people who give up their favorite food.

“Some people use it to do away with a crutch. We’ve had people give up alcohol and cigarettes. It’s not what it was intended for, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Both church leaders promote not only the removal of certain lifestyle additions, but also the implementation of a positive practice in the lives of their congregations.

“I encourage my people to give something up as a remembrance of what Christ has done for them. Sometimes, Lent can be a time where we spend more time doing,” Strange said. “Get up 30 minutes early and spend that time in a devotion book, scripture or prayer.”

Wesley agreed, saying Lent can help people add positive things to their lives.

“I’ve encouraged people to not only give something up, but take something on,” Wesley said. “Read the Bible more regularly or to set aside a time of prayer or something that would enhance their spiritual life, a positive.”