Thursday, February 07, 2008

Faithful receive ashes at supermarket.

In today's edition of my hometown newspaper, I came across a story on an unlikely Ash Wednesday service led by a local Methodist pastor:

Ash Wednesday is one of those rare times when faith takes on a physical manifestation. The tell-tale black smudge on the forehead reveals a person observing the beginning of Lent, the traditional Christian time for repentance and re-evaluation of belief that reaches its conclusion on Easter Sunday.

But with church attendance down markedly in many parishes, some pastors and congregations are taking their church services to other, more accessible venues.

Like Stop & Shop, for instance.

"In a way, we're bringing it out to the community. If you can't get to the church, we bring it out to you," said Alice Franklin, a parishioner of the Wesley United Methodist Church on Main Street [in Wareham, Mass.].

Ms. Franklin was one of a handful of church members who took part in the Wednesday morning blessings led from 9 to 10 by the Rev. Walter Wnek, who is a familiar face at this particular Stop & Shop. Nearly every week for the past year and a half, the Rev. Wnek has visited the store to lead sessions of Christian meditation and talk to shoppers passing by.

"It was this year, as we looked toward the Lenten period, that I thought, 'Well, why don't we provide ashes on Ash Wednesday?'" he said. "And so here we are today, hopeful that people will take advantage of this opportunity to receive the ashes of repentance and dedicate the period between now and Easter to a new desire in their hearts to live a new life following more closely the commands of God and living in the wonder of God's love and grace."
To read the rest, click here. Though I'll admit that I'm a bit unsettled by the image of a clergyman in liturgical vestments leading prayers stacked cartons of soda cans, I like the idea of bringing the message of Lent into secular environments where the season might otherwise go unnoticed. At the same time, I hope that pastoral initiatives like this actually lead people back to active religious practice and don't give them the sense that faith is simply another consumable item they can pick up at the supermarket.

Ideally, seeing ashes being given out in a supermarket should remind us that God is present in all areas of our lives - not simply in our worshipping communities, but in our homes and workplaces and even the places where we shop. As we reflect upon the way we live out our Christian faith during Lent, we would all do well to consider whether we are truly able to find God in all things.

How do we find God in all things? One way is through the Examen, considering how we have encountered God over the course of our day. Another way might be to simply think of the places we visit on a regular basis - markets, offices, schools, and so on - and reflect on whether and how we encounter God in each one of them.

Becoming aware of the presence of God in our daily activities can be challenging, especially when we're thinking about apparently mundane tasks we find frustrating or boring. Many people easily find God in joyful or surprising events, but finding God in the ordinary can sometimes be more difficult. If you simply give it a try, though, you may be surprised to realize that you've encountered God at Stop & Shop. AMDG.


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