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Faces on Faith: Cold pews and warm hearts

March 8, 2017
By Rev. Dr. John H. Danner , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

In the early years of my ministry, back in the late 70s, I served a small church that participated in an ecumenical series of Wednesday evening Lenten worship services. Lent, of course, is that 40 day season of preparation before Easter. And every Wednesday night through the season we would gather in one church, or another,mostly Congregational and Methodist churches as I remember, and the host pastor would serve as liturgist while one of the rest of us would preach.

This was in Central Maine, and so the services, even the last of them, were held on nights that were cold and often marked by snow on the ground. Bering small congregations, the sanctuaries were not kept warm during the week, and so we often sat on very cold pews. The hymns we sang were those often associated with Lent: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," "The old Rugged Cross," "Forty Days and Forty Nights," and so on. Somber hymns. Sad hymns. All-in-all the services were designed to truly carry us into a reflective and penitential place. Attendance was always rather light, despite the fact that six congregations were involved. The series had been around many years before I arrived on the scene, and I assume, continued for many years after I left. For all I know, they still may be a part of Lent for those little churches in Maine.

By contrast, of course, when Easter morning finally arrived, we would each gather in our respective church buildings, which were filled with sunlight and beautiful flowers and people. Lots of people. People we never saw, but at Christmas and Easter along with the regulars, and those brave souls who had traipsed around at night in the cold on Wednesday nights. I was always delighted to see so many people turn out for the Alleluias!

But I also felt those who only turned out at Easter were missing something. For there was a real sense of wonder and relief when we finally burst out of the dark night of winter we experienced on those Wednesday nights, into the bright morning light of early spring. A relief that reflected the relief Mary Magdalene and the others must have felt on that first Easter morning when they discovered Jesus had been raised from the dead.

We don't have cold pews here in Florida. But I suspect the various Christian churches on Sanibel and Captiva do have classes, services and other Lenten events. Times to reflect, times to prepare, times to get ready for the joy of Easter.

For those of my readers who are Christian, I hope you will take time in lent, as well as at Easter, to participate. And for those of my readers who are not Christian, a simple reminder that it is often in the contrast of fasting and feasting, times of reflection and times of celebration, that we come to know the greatest joy. And that transcends any particular religious expression!



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