03/05/14 — Community marks Lent

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Community marks Lent

By Matt Caulder and Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on March 5, 2014 1:46 PM

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Jim Skowronek prays during the Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church.

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St. Mary Roman Catholic Church Deacon Webster James marks the forehead of Nichole Mehlhaft with ashes to signify repentance before God during the church's Ash Wednesday service this morning. Today begins Lent, the season in the Christian calendar that precedes Easter. During the season, many faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. This year, Easter falls on April 20.

For local Christians, the season of Lent, which begins today, is about quiet reflection and re-invigorating their commitment to God.

"What are the areas in our life that need to be shaped, formed, chopped off or created?" asked the Rev. James Harry, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church. "Lent is a time for at least these six weeks when we're going to look at issues of our own lives."

Lenten services were planned at many churches across Wayne County today to mark the start of the pre-Easter season.

Commitments to the Lenten season vary. Many people give up something -- sweets or a favorite activity -- as a way of showing penitence before Easter.

Cameron Dove, 16, a student at Eastern Wayne High School, is going to give up Twitter for Lent.

"I don't post much, but I check it a lot, so I am going to give that up," she said. "It takes up a lot of my time from studying and other things, so if I give it up I will have more time to sit in prayer. I will be able to get to sleep earlier, too, without checking it all the time."

John Heeden said he is giving up a meal a day for Lent.

"I am sort of doing it as a kind of fast the entire time of Lent," he said.

Carol James is going to add in more time for spiritual growth through the season, but she is also looking to drop some junk food, too.

"I want to make an effort to do something more spiritual or more giving," she said. "I will probably give something up too, that'll be something in the food realm. The junk food."

But Lent isn't all about dropping something bad to get closer to God. For many, it's also about picking up something good.

Lu Saulmon is going to spend her time helping others instead of taking away something.

"My hope is to help people," she said. "I want to spend more of my time helping people instead of giving up certain things."

The methods vary, but the goal of all of those who practice Lent remain the same.

"It's important to take intentional time to make God a part of our lives whether it's giving up something or taking something up. The main thing is to use the season of Lent as a time to make room for God within our lives. They get so cluttered and crowded sometimes," said the Rev. Scott Thrailkill, associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Goldsboro.

Lent and Ash Wednesday practices were first started a few hundred years after the founding of the Catholic Church. Some Christian denominations have also adopted the practice, and many Christians in the Goldsboro area will be seen today with a cross of ashes on their forehead marking them as observers of the season.

At St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Goldsboro, members of the congregation came together for a homily before business hours and were marked with ashes during the ceremony.

The ashes signify the passing of life on Earth and are meant to humble the person, Deacon Webster James said.

"The ashes signify our mortality," he said. "They serve as a way to remember what Christ went through in the desert. He went through all of the same things we do everyday with the temptations."

This year, James is keeping his personal sacrifice to himself but did say he plans to make his an ongoing change in his life past the Lenten season.

"I am offering up my sacrifice to the Lord in the quiet of my own heart," he said.

For those not attached to a church and still wish to take part in the season of self-reflection, a number of churches from the surrounding community are once again organizing Goldsboro's annual Community Lenten services, starting at noon today at Madison Avenue Baptist Church. This year's theme is "Unifying the Kingdom of God."

The first service will feature the Rev. Adam Seate with St. Luke United Methodist Church as homilist.

"I'm addressing how people give up for the season of Lent. Instead, I'm encouraging Christians to take on a holy practice to live in a way that makes a difference for the community," Seate said.

Typically, the Community Services, sponsored by the Clergy Living in Faith and Fellowship, tackle one Bible scripture throughout the six weeks of Lent. Each homilist, taken from different churches throughout the area, speaks on a verse from the passage.

The event also provides a unique opportunity for Christians in the area -- to worship under new voices and together with new people.

"Our primary purpose is to gather the community, and ... at least in six weeks out of the year, we come together without denominational boundaries, without color boundaries and without gender boundaries," Harry said.

Harry is also giving something up for Lent, but for him, it's about giving up to gain. He didn't give exact details, but he is looking to take away some of the comfort that enjoys.

"By abstaining ... I hope to grow in solidarity with sisters and brothers that don't have the basic staples that we enjoy. That's what Lent is about, finding weakness and choosing through the grace of God in more poignant way to understand the needs of others," he said.

"As you can see, Christians take the need for self-examination and confession seriously."