"I gave that up for Lent."
Many people—even ones who do not go to church—are familiar with the idea of giving up something for Lent. What most are not familiar with is why people give up something for Lent. Nor are they familiar with the season’s wealth of other traditions, which can be a source of deep meaning. Wouldn’t it be exciting to hear a person say, "I got that from Lent"?
After some research, I realized that the season was full of learning opportunities—opportunities that lend themselves to the entire congregation.
With this in mind, I combined youth and adult education (through church newsletter articles and bulletin inserts), to create a comprehensive study of Lent. Here are a few highlights:
Shrovetide (from shrove/shrive, meaning "to absolve or do penance") is the time of festivity before the solemn season of Lent. There are a variety of colorful Shrovetide customs throughout the world. Perhaps the most famous of these is Mardi Gras. Following a study of major Shrovetide customs and traditions, the group chose two projects aimed at bringing the festivities of Shrovetide to our church.
Mardi Gras—For Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), we selected the event that culminates celebration–the Mardi Gras Ball. In preparation for the ball, we found someone in the church who agreed to offer Ballroom dancing lessons to everyone who wanted to come the week before the event.
The ball was fashioned after the famous Mardi Gras "Rex Ball," in New Orleans. The church’s fellowship hall was decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of royal purple and gold. And even two adults whom the youth admire were crowned king and queen.
Ladies attending the ball were announced as the queen's court and given a small gift. Some of the guys in our youth group extended their arms for the first waltz. I was surprised when I realized that some of the guys had practiced all week for this dance!
Shrove Tuesday—In England, Pancake Day is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday to use up rich, sugary food that is forbidden during the fasting times of the season. The group selected Pancake Day as their second project, hosting a breakfast for the church and community.
The breakfast took on special meaning because a study on fasting preceded it. Traditionally, fasting was an important part of Lent.
The study included Jesus’ teachings on fasting, the types of fasting, and fasting guidelines. As a result, some group members chose to give up one meal a week during Lent and to fast all day on Good Friday. They promoted the idea among the entire church and the middle school youth gave up a favorite food during Lent.
The group distributed to church participants savings banks and devotional guides from the Society of St. Andrew. People put the money they saved by fasting into their banks and brought them to the altar on Easter morning. The proceeds went to the Society of St. Andrew to feed the hungry (for more information visit their website and search: Lent).
A mother of a younger child in church told me about the following incident: While one of our youth was babysitting for her third-grade child, she explained why she was not eating with them. The child, in turn, demanded that every member of her family give up something for Lent. The child’s suggestion was chocolate, since that was her favorite food.
The Lenten Season
Ash Wednesday—Ash Wednesday services became especially meaningful to our group. They learned the early history of the tradition, which included the church’s practice of offering the ashes to only designated sinners. Only after friends and family of the "sinners" claimed to be sinners too, were ashes available to the entire congregation.
Maundy Thursday—A study of the events of Holy Week included the experience of a Jewish Seder. Eleven other churches in our town joined our group to experience the seder. The evening ended with a demonstration of the washing of the disciples’ feet and everyone participating in Communion. The experience brought the Last Supper to life for everyone.
Good Friday—We ended our Lenten study of Good Friday by sponsoring a Lent breakfast open to the community. Our study group presented a program for those who attended on what they had learned and experienced during Lent. Their testimony included why they were not eating breakfast on that day.
Many of the other churches in our community do not observe the season of Lent. However, after the program, we had several requests to provide study materials for them.
Prior to the breakfast, we had made cross necklaces out of nails–one for themselves and one to share. I gave mine to a young man who was sitting on the outskirts of the group. He put it on, but immediately placed it inside his shirt. I was disappointed. But, as everyone was leaving, I noticed that the young man was moving the cross from the inside to the outside of his shirt. One of our young people noticed too. She looked at me and said, "We did good!"