[Episcopal News Service] Shannon Knapp of Lehighton, Pennsylvania, is Zumba dancing her way to Jerusalem as part of her 2013 Lenten spiritual practice.
At least 83 others in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem are rowing, weightlifting, cycling, walking and even chair-exercising from nursing homes in the spirit of giving up unhealthy lifestyles as they count calories burned as miles traveled and aim to “arrive in Jerusalem” in time for Holy Week.
Many Episcopalians are offering inviting creative opportunities for the traditional Lenten practices of giving up bad habits or luxuries and of adding disciplines in an effort to draw closer to God.
Invitations to give things up include calls for carbon fasts throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, for plastic-bag fasts, for food fasts and reductions, and for foregoing unhealthy words and lifestyles and focusing on living simply.
Besides the corporate walk to Jerusalem in the Diocese of Bethlehem, add-on possibilities include: a daily photo log of God’s presence in unexpected places; Lent Madness; the Bible Challenge; and even a mustache and goatee-growing contest.
Lent: pray, fast, act in solidarity
In her Lenten message, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori called on Episcopalians “to pray, to fast, to act in solidarity with those who go without. Learn more, give alms, share what you have. Be conscious about what you eat.”
Episcopalians could, for example, consider eating about $4 worth of food a day, the equivalent of a Food Stamp budget, as an “act of solidarity with those who do go without every day and every week,” she said.
Similarly, San Diego Episcopalians were invited to become “Hungry for Lent” by skipping a meal a week and donating the cost of that meal to the Episcopal Community Services for programs that assist the homeless and mentally ill. That way, it’s both a giving up and an adding on, said Deann Ayer, ECS volunteer coordinator.
“It would be fun for families to do it and for kids, too, and then to talk about what it means,” she said during a recent telephone interview from her office.
Giving up and adding on … words
The Society of St. John the Evangelist in West Newbury, Massachusetts, has established a meditation site to “give up a word a week” that your life would be better without, according to Jamie Coats, director of the Friends of SSJE.
“‘I’ was my word for this week,” wrote Laura on the meditation website during last year’s Lenten observance. “Wanted to try to emphasize the other person instead of me. I did not do so well in giving it up, but trying was a lesson in and of itself. I had no idea how much I talk about myself! I would be in the middle of a sentence and freeze as I was reminded to make the conversation about someone else! I would switch gears and try to solicit conversation from them and about them. I’ve decided to do this word for two weeks since I didn’t do as well as I wished I would have.”
At least 40 people responded to last year’s challenge, Coats said in an e-mail to the Episcopal News Service.
The website explains the practice: “We all try, at one time or another, to give up those habits, foods or behaviors that do us harm — what about words? … What word would your life be better without? Here is our challenge to you: For one week, stop using a word that is destructive to you, your life, the world or your relationship with others.”
Meanwhile, parishioners at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, are adding words —their own daily reflections to be distributed online as a Tumblr blog, said the Rev. Catherine D. Kerr, assistant rector.
“Rather than focusing our community on something that’s produced ‘out there’ somewhere, these reflections are written by members of our own parish and will be shared to the world,” she said.
Adding on … weightlifting and chair-exercising to Jerusalem
It’s about 5,675 miles from Carbon County, Pennsylvania, to Jerusalem, and the Rev. John Wagner, rector-elect of St. Mark’s and St. John’s Church in the city of Jim Thorpe, is making the calories-to-miles conversions for a host of exercises. That way, participants will metaphorically and collectively arrive in Jerusalem “in time to join Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and walk that trail of tears with him.”
“We’ll be able to trek that Via Dolorosa a few pounds lighter and in a bit better shape,” said Wagner, who thus far has about 83 Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Methodists signed on for the journey.
“My prayer is we don’t wind up about five miles short and get wet in the Mediterranean,” he joked during a recent telephone interview with ENS.
Wagner adapted an Episcopal Health Ministries program to include everyone from Shannon Knapp’s zumba dancing to nursing home residents exercising in chairs, he said.
For Knapp, a parishioner at All Saints Church in Lehighton, it’s “a great opportunity to fit exercise into a positive mission for the church. I can’t wait to get started.”
Wagner, 66, who meditates while he walks, said the program also included weekly meditations on Scripture and health tips. “And, as the Lenten season progresses, hopefully we arrive at Easter far better physically and spiritually, and my cardiologist does approve of that.”
Participants will e-mail Wagner their activity totals each week; he will convert them to miles and keep them posted on individual and collective tallies as Holy Week draws near.
When some nursing home participants worried that they could only pledge a mile or two a week, he compared their contributions to “the lesson from the widow’s mite offering from St. Luke, where her two mites were judged more valuable than rich men who gave from their plenty. So they can join right in with the program, and if I have to pick them up on Holy Saturday and bring them out to meet the rest of the group, that’s fine.”
Wagner said he planned to bring as many participants as possible together during Holy Week to complete the last mile collectively. He is still accepting participants, including “independents,” via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Lent is a time of repentance and fasting, of turning away from all that is counter to God’s will and purposes for his world and all who live in it,” said Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, ACEN chair and primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which includes some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Floods recently hit two of the church’s dioceses, Lebombo and Niassa in Mozambique, leaving more than 150,000 people homeless.
“This year, I invite Anglicans to focus their Lenten ‘acts of love and sacrifice’ on our contribution to climate change and on those most impacted by it,” Makgoba said in a statement.
The carbon fast resource suggests a specific action for each of the 40 days of Lent, raising awareness of environmental issues and guiding participants on how to have a positive effect on creation.
Building on traditional Lenten practices where Christians give something up, such as chocolate or alcohol, the carbon fast asks participants to focus on lifestyle changes to reduce their “carbon footprint,” their contribution to environmentally damaging greenhouse-gas emissions, usually measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. Participants can record experiences on a blog at http://www.carbonfast2013.wordpress.com from Ash Wednesday through Easter.
In another environmental initiative, in the Diocese of Maryland the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (formerly Chesapeake Covenant Community) invites congregations to refrain from using plastic bags during Lent and opt for reusable cloth bags instead, according to Sharon Tillman, director of communications for the diocese.
Episcopalians also can join a 40-Days of Simply Living in a Time of Fire & Rain interfaith challenge for individuals and congregations, according to Chuck Morello, co-chair of the Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship Commission. It is accessible on Facebook and includes a challenge calendar for participants.
Adding on … images of God
Kim Ellsworth, an intern with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program at St. Stephen’s Church in Hollywood, California, hopes to engage others in “taking on a discipline that impacts our faith, our relationships and our relationship with God.
“I am going to take a picture every day of what I think represents God’s presence in a city that usually does not show it openly,” according to Ellsworth. “When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was astounded by the uncleanliness of the environment and the pain of the people despite the bright and warm weather. I wanted to help but, I admit, I fell into a gloom thinking that nothing I did would change it. I have emerged from that place, but I want to take this time of reflection to document and explore how God shows up in places we would normally not think to look.”
By using the church’s Facebook page and website, she has invited the community along on her photo journey.
In a sports-inspired Lenten activity, the well-known Lent Madness created by the Rev. Tim Schenck in 2010 and now run in partnership with Forward Movement, racked up 50,000 visits to the website last year.
The format for the engaging way to learn about the men and women in the church’s Calendar of Saints is straightforward: “32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single elimination bracket. Each pairing remains open for a set period of time and people vote for their favorite saint. 16 saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch,” according to the Lent Madness website.
For the biblically minded, several churches and even dioceses are undertaking the Bible Challenge, which offers various options for reading portions of or all of the Bible during Lenten programs and throughout the year.
Finally, St. James Church in Cincinnati is hosting a mustache and goatee-growing contest. Contestants begin on Shrove Tuesday “by anteing up a $10 entry fee,” according to the contest website. “They will also announce the charity of their choice that they are sponsoring with their facial hair.”
– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.