How do you help families talk to their children about Lent?
When my sons were young, I discovered a way for our family to mark the season of Lent. I created a Lenten wreath.
I combined two 10-inch gold Advent rings and placed putty in one of the candleholders to create seven candlesticks instead of eight. I set the two rings together and made them nonsymmetrical. I covered the Advent rings with grapevine in a circle, and I used burgundy candles to represent Christ’s crucifixion.
The Ashes to Go movement came last year to the church I serve in Washington, DC. We are a pretty traditional congregation, especially in matters liturgical and theological, so this was bound to be an experience that stretched us. How would the neighborhood respond? How would our parishioners respond?
“Incredibly positively,” was the answer I shared time and time again in the days following.
The challenge of Lent-Easter-Pentecost is quite different from the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. Our culture provides little competition during Lent (as opposed to the busyness and extravagance of Advent). By and large, we are free to observe Lent/Easter with little interference from society. That this is so, however, may be a sign that we have not been observing this ninety-day cycle very well.
Dr. Mark is a medical doctor involved with family practice. He was also president of his church council when I met him. After hearing him tell his thoughts about family ministry, it was clear to me why he had made time in his busy schedule to take on a leadership role in his congregation. I felt there must be some correlation between his knowledge of treating patients through family practice and the passion and interest he showed for supporting family ministry in his congregation.
Movies capture the spirit of hope in strikingly clear fashion. Have you ever had the experience of watching a movie and knowing the outcome will be good, but in the midst of an action scene you wonder how it is possible for the main character to even survive? Yet you remind yourself that you know the ending will be a good one. You are sustained through the challenging scene by the sure hope of a positive outcome without knowing what the positive outcome is or how it will be achieved.
The Super Bowl is past, the Olympics are here, and baseball spring training has begun. These are all topics around my house as we talk about our favorite sports and marvel at what people can accomplish. We cheer when amazing plays go right, we gasp when someone falls or crashes, we wonder if they will get up and try again, we can feel their frustration and pain, and we can hope that they will do it better next time. These are life lessons. Whether we are talking about building a Lego structure that collapses, leading a class that doesn’t go so well, or crashing on an Olympic ski run. How do we pick up and try again? Or, DO we pick up and try again. There is always an option of walking away from something when it isn’t going right, and then there is the option of learning from our failures and mistakes, in order that we might apply them to new adventures in the future.
In holding up faith formation as lifelong, we guard against the grave mistake that sturdy faith is something you acquire in Sunday school, youth group, or confirmation class and then simply possess from there forward. That’s the error of an elite, professionalized model where Christian education is about imparting the correct, church-sanctioned knowledge. It’s an error that most readers of this blog avoid.
I recently heard Fr. Anthony Gittins tell a story of one of his experiences. Fr. Gittins has worked with homeless women in Chicago for over thirty years. Often he cooks dinner once a week at the homeless shelter.
One evening, Rosie said to him, “Do you know what’s wrong with you, Tony? You never ask us what we want to eat.”
Recently I attended a faith formation conference. In one of the workshops some very real concerns in the church today were being discussed. The concerns were about the assumptions we tend to make about the people who come through the doors of the church each week. It was decided that we tend to think everyone speaks the language of our denomination or is actively engaged in a committed spiritual life when in many cases this is not true. During the workshop examples of some actual questions ministry leaders have been asked were given. For example, "Can you tell me why some of the numbers are big and some are small in the Bible?", "Where do I find the New Testament.", and my personal favorite, "I'm thinking of coming to church. Do I need a reservation?"
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