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Wadena churches observe Lent

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Churches around Wadena began a 40-day season on this weeks Ash Wednesday.

The season is Lent and it is six weeks long. The word Lent has a few origins.

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The Rev. Orv Sauter, pastor of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ of Wadena, writes in a handout to his congregation that for people in the Northern Hemisphere lent means the lengthening of days for this time of year. Others, he writes, suggest the word derives from lentare. Lentare means to bend.

Lent can be time to bend our wills and intentions a new way, he said.

For many churches Lent means time for preparation.

Were getting ready for baptism, said the Rev. Jon Larson, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church.

In the old church, people were baptized after Lent, Larson said.

Gregory Safreed, pastoral associate and religious education coordinator for the five parish cluster including St. Anns Catholic Church in Wadena, describes Lent as a time to prepare for battle.

Lent is a time to spiritually tone, he said.

Many churches will observe Lent this season. Some will distribute ashes. Others will have special programs. Several stress reflection and confession.

Not observing Lent

While many churches are currently observing Lent, some are not.

The Rev. Kevin Albertsons church, the Southbrook Baptist Church, is one of them.

Historically, the members havent observed Lent, but they do have a Palm Sunday service and a special message on Easter celebrating Christs resurrection, he said.

Like the Southbrook Baptist Church, the Rev. Allen Refslands church, the Assembly of God, does not have the Lenten tradition.

Because were not heavy in church tradition we have decided not to do that, Refsland said.

Refsland, however, has nothing against the Lenten tradition.

If people want to do observe it on their own, thats fine, he said.

I honor the churches that observe lent, Refsland said. I dont see anything wrong with it. Its a nice tradition to have.

The Rev. Lorn Apel of the First Missionary Baptist Church finds Lent a hindrance to the Word.

People put too much emphasis on things that are not necessary to be there, he said.

When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he showed his power that he can live again and his truths are continual, Apel said.

The Rev. Jeff Heislers church, the Evangelical Church of North America, doesnt observe Lent because the evangelical emphasize the relationship and the cross year round, Heisler said.

His church doesnt observe Ash Wednesday, but the congregation usually addresses Good Friday.

Reflection

For many of the churches that do observe Lent, it becomes a time for reflection.

The focus isnt on giving up things but rather on reflection, Larson of Immanuel said.

People can reflect and look inward, he said.

Sauter thinks Lent is a time for people to note how they are doing.

Its time for people to look to see if they are acting as prayerfully and thoughtfully as they should, he said.

To see if they are acting how they should, Sauters congregation looks toward Christ.

Each week we talk about how we are to be faithful, he said. Jesus came to show us the way to go.

During Lent people remember how Jesus came as Gods chosen one, he said.

The Rev. John Husband of St. Helens Episcopal views Lent as not only a time for self-reflection but for reflection on the world as well.

You take the heart of Lent out when you only think about yourself, Husband said.

Christ was not a loner; Lent needs to be about the community, Husband said.

Husband sees Lent as having two parts. One is self-examination and the other is world examination. For self-examination, its a time to examine one morally, spiritually and psychologically and look at the dark places. Meanwhile, its a time to look at the dark places in the world like abuse, intolerance and poverty, he said.

To help people look at the world, St. Helens Church is having adult Lenten book study at 4 p.m. Mondays during Lent at the church, starting March 13. Anyone is welcome.

The Lenten book study group will read the book Night a memoir of the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel. With the book, Christians will examine the world through a Jewish lens, which Husband thinks is appropriate for Lent.

To help with self-reflection St. Helens has booklets called Time for reflection: seeking Gods perspective. The booklet has a day and a prayer for each day.

Asking forgiveness

In several churches, Lent is about forgiveness.

All of us fall short and so we ask for forgiveness, said Sauter of First Congregational.

Along the lines of forgiveness comes repentance.

Lent is a time of repentance, said the Rev. Steve Papillon of the Zion Free Lutheran Church.

Lent is a time for confession, Safreed said.

In the Catholic Church, asking forgiveness includes going to confession, which means telling ones sins to a priest.

Its a time to talk about sinful nature, and talking about it helps people understand that they do need a savior, Papillon said.

Imitate Christ

Another way in which church observes Lent is through imitating Christ.

We use Lent to intensify our life toward God in the same way Christ did, Safreed said.

The Catholic church imitates Christ in three ways during Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Fasting takes place on two days during Lent: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When Catholics are fasting, they eat one meal and a snack or two a day. They also abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent.

Fasting is to make ourselves more in control of ourselves, Safreed said.

Fasting, however, cannot just be completed as an action but needs to be in the right attitude without complaining, he said.

An example Safreed gives is not eating candy during Lent. A person shouldnt give up candy during Lent to lose weight, although that can be another effect of the abstinence.

Instead, it empties a person to develop a closer relationship to God, he said.

Ashes

Ashes are used in several churches on Ash Wednesday as a reminder of mortality.

The Immanuel Church uses ashes on Ash Wednesday.

They are a reminder that people are dependent on God for life, Larson said.

Ashes put everything else in perspective, Safreed said.

He said they remind people that everyone dies and needs to keep in mind the goal of heaven.

Were mortal, but our spirits live, Sauter said.

To Sauter, ashes signify continuity.

Ashes are created from the palms of the previous year and are a reminder that Christ is Lord, he said.

Ashes are sometimes given at St. John Lutheran Church and sometimes not.

Its a worthwhile custom, said the Rev. Gary Rokenbrodt, pastor of St. John Lutheran.

Themes

To help relate the Lenten message, some churches use themes.

The Immanuel Lutheran Church will have Wednesday services with the theme Blessed Are.

The Wadena United Methodist Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Wrightstown United Methodist Church and Faith United Church of Christ will participate in the theme God, People and Promises.

The services will include study and worship, said the Rev. Larry Hager of the United Methodist Church.

The Zion Lutheran Church will have The Story Tree theme.

It talks about trees in Bible stories. It includes Jesus in the Garden, the Garden of Eden, the ark, the burning bush, Abrahams sacrifice and the ram caught in a tree, waving trees on Palm Sunday and the cross tree.

The theme song will be Come to the Story Tree. Every Wednesday during lent the church brings out the themes with prayers, singing, message, sometimes testimonies.

A childrens message

Children receive special messages at their level in many churches, so they can understand the meaning of Lent.

Its important that children are accustomed to the practice so it becomes second nature when they get older, Safreed said.

At St. Anns Catholic Church, kids attend Stations of the Cross, a devotion that follows Jesus and his steps with the cross. The stations are Fridays at 2 p.m.

The children also collect money for the poor as part of almsgiving, Safreed said.

St. John Lutheran Church children receive a paper that explains the Lenten message to them.

Sauter talks to kids about how Jesus was inviting to all people. He gives the example of kids fighting on the playground and how they should stick up for each other and be accepting of everyone.

At St. Helens Episcopal, the children will meet together on Good Friday to talk about the cross at their level. They might be doing an activity like an art project.

The Episcopal Church people will put change in a mite box. The mite box will be for money raised for world hunger. Adults and children can put change in the mite box, said Husband.

St. Helens will also be reading a play by Dorothy Sayers, a detective writer and a Christian theologian. She wrote a series for the radio called The Man Born to be King, which tells the life of Jesus in 12 Acts. The series includes healings, Palm Sunday and the resurrection.

The congregation will read the text. Theyll assign the parts and pretend they are on the radio. Theyll use some costuming to help the children understand. There are some one-liners for children. The acts are 20-25 minutes each. Discussions will follow. They will have breakfast at 8:45 a.m. Then they will start the play at 9 a.m. Then at 9:45 a.m., the Eucharist starts.

The play includes background so people learn the history through the play. Even children can understand the play, Husband said.

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