As a young boy, living in the South Philadelphia suburb of Tinicum Township, I spent a good deal of time at St. John’s Lutheran Church serving as an acolyte.
I loved being an acolyte. We got to wear robes like the clergy; we got to light the candles with a super cool lighter/extinguisher thing; we got to assist in the distribution of the communion elements; and, the coolest thing of all got to ring the church bells! I can barely put it into words how important being an acolyte was to me at that time.
When I was nine years old, we moved to New Jersey and my parents left the Lutheran tradition behind. After a few years with a non-denominational, community church, our family settled itself in with the local Church of Christ– an evangelical, fundamentalist tradition born out of the restoration movement.
To say the very least, the Churches of Christ disagree with the worship practices of the mainline denominations, and my services as an acolyte were not needed in my new church home. This secretly broke my heart, but I lived to accept the fact that things were going to be different. The old ways of my young faith were to be set aside, and I would simply have to learn the new ways of God, which were actually the old ways of God.
Confused yet? Yeah, so was I.
My maternal Grandmother, who lived across the street from us in that South Philly, suburban row home, continued on with her faithful participation in the Lutheran tradition, and, because of and with her, I secretly kept some of the traditions of her faith in my own practices. A very significant practice for me (not every year, I’ll admit) was the practice of observing Lent.
What I remember about my observance of Lent was that it began 40 days prior to Easter and that I had to give up something; that was about it.
As I grew older into adulthood, I pretty much gave up the practice entirely. I don’t have the time to give up anything. I’m good without it. Besides, I don’t worship that way, anymore.
About fifteen years ago, I re-examined my faith and was led to a different way of seeing God, faith, and religious practice. I now identify as a Christian who worships in the United Methodist tradition, and Lent and Easter once again play a very significant role in the practice of my faith.
This year, in an effort to grow, I determined to seek out a Lenten journey that was more personal for me than giving up caffeine, which has become my go-to item to chuck. This year I thought that instead of giving something up, I would seek to find something to do, a path to walk that would bring me closer to God and my fellow humankind.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe in God in your own way or reject the notion of God altogether, no matter where you are on your journey in this life, I want you to know that I am going to participate in this Lenten practice as a way to lift you up.
I don’t need you to be like me, to worship like me, to practice a religion like me. What I do need you to know is that you are so much more than you can ever imagine, more valuable than you can ever realize, and loved beyond all measure.
During the Lenten season as many around the world reflect on where they are in relationship to God, I want you to know that you are as close to God as the air you breathe. God is never away from you and you are never away from God.
You are loved and cherished by God because you are God’s beloved creation. You are loved and cherished by God because you were created. Period. You are worthy because you are God’s beloved child—redeemed and whole and brilliant.
During this Lenten season, I want you to know you are loved, and I will try my best to show it.
I wish you peace!