LIMA — More than two decades ago, a group of pastors decided to try something new. They came up with the idea of joining their churches together to celebrate the Lenten season by having a series of weekly services, starting on Ash Wednesday and culminating on Good Friday.
“You have to go back about 24 years,” said the Rev. Doug Adams, head pastor at South Side Christian Church. “It was a group of clergy that meets together regularly. We decided to get our congregations together for the Lent season.”
That first group included five churches: Central Christian Church, First Evangelical and Reformed Church, South Side Christian Church, Gomer United Church of Christ and Calvary United Church of Christ.
Over the years, that group has fluctuated.
“There have been various stages,” Adams said. “Churches have joined; they’ve dropped out, or as in the case of Calvary, they have ceased to exist.”
This year, there are six churches involved from various denominations. Adams said that they like to keep it to around six because that is how many weeks are in the Lenten season, but that other churches are always welcome to join with them. The churches involved this year are Central Christian Church, Faith Christian Church, First Baptist Church, Market Street Presbyterian Church, South Side Christian Church and Westside United Methodist Church.
The community Lenten services kicked off earlier this week on Ash Wednesday.
“We all meet together for the imposition of the ashes,” said the Rev. Robert White head pastor at First Baptist Church, who is heading it up this year.
Last year, Adams partnered with White to head up the services, but, this year, he is on sabbatical until the middle of February.
“Doug and I coordinated together last year, but since he is on sabbatical, I got the main job,” White said.
Then, each Sunday for the six weeks of Lent, a participating church hosts the other churches for an evening service. A pastor from a different church than the host church gives the message.
“It is usually about a 45-minute service,” White said. “We have singing, a message and prayer. Then we have a fellowship time afterwards.”
It is this fellowship time that is especially precious to those participating.
“The most important part is the fellowship afterwards with the cookies and coffee,” Adams said. “That when everyone can get to know each other.”
The Rev. Wade Pond, head pastor at Faith Christian Church agreed.
“It’s a wonderful way to engage with other parts of the community,” he said.
Expanding their views is one reason why the combined services were started in the first place.
“It was a way of getting our congregations exposed to other churches,” explained Adams. “We’d always been kind of closed or cloistered and this was a way to be ecumenical, to see how others worshipped, hear other ministers preach and develop a fellowship.”
Pond added, “It is a way to realize the breadth and width which is Christian hospitality, Christian fellowship, and Christian witness.”
White said that the services offer something unique to the congregations. “Our congregation really enjoys this,” he said. “It is one of the few opportunities they have to interact with other churches in a worship setting. It’s very valuable because it is so easy for an individual church to get caught up in its own programs and things. By doing Lent together, we can gain a wider understanding. When the Bible talks about the body of Christ, it is referring to the whole body of believers.”
For some of the churches involved, the Lenten season is not something that their denomination typically observes. White’s church is one of those. He feels that the community Lenten services are something from which his congregation can learn.
“For us, the appeal is to do something with other churches,” he said. “Typically, Baptist churches don’t know a lot about Lent, so this gives us some education and also time for reflection on what Easter means to us.”
The community celebration ends with a Good Friday service on March 29.
“The Good Friday service always changes,” White said. “What will we be doing? It’s a surprise.”
At each service, an offering is also taken up. This goes to support Churches United Pantry, which is a local food pantry supported by area churches to feed the hungry.
Despite the different views held by different denominations, White said he has yet to hear anyone complain about the gatherings and the services are well attended.
“We run a couple hundred on the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday services,” he said. “We have maybe 125 or so on the Sunday evening services.”
Pond, who came to Faith Christian Church last June, sees his church’s involvement as a good thing.
“It’s a blessing to the community,” he said, “when churches do things together like this.”
Event: Community Lenten Services
Time: 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Central Christian Church, 525 W. North St.
Feb. 24 at Faith Christian Church, 2223 Shawnee Road
March 3 at Westside United Methodist Church, 604 Gloria Ave.
March 10 at Market Street Presbyterian Church, 1100 W. Market St.
March 17 at First Baptist Church, 451 N. Cable Road
March 29 at South Side Christian Church, 3300 South Side Drive