by Stephen Wigley.
‘Do you know of any churches doing anything interesting for Lent?’ It’s not an everyday question, but it’s one I was asked recently by a colleague who works in local radio. I think I know what she meant and was looking for; something different to the usual round of events to be found in church notices at this time of year, something which might contribute to an interesting radio programme.
My first thought was to rack my brain for churches which might indeed be doing something a little different, something beyond the usual round of lent lunches, midweek services and ecumenical bibles studies. And I confess that my initial investigation couldn’t come up with anything much beyond the normal pattern of events, however valuable and well-intentioned.
Nevertheless, the question set me thinking. What do I make of Lent and who is it for? Is it just for Christians inside the church or should it be something of interest, able to speak to the wider world? Is it primarily a time for refocusing on our spiritual discipline, either giving things up or taking new commitments on ‘for Lent’? Or does this give the wrong idea about Christian faith and church, that it’s all about saying ‘no’ to things rather than saying ‘yes’ to life?
These questions stayed with me as I set off to take my normal round of Sunday services. But as I drove in my car, I was struck by the number of other people out in the wind and rain on a fairly miserable Sunday morning in February. There were runners in fluorescent vests, cycling groups in lycra struggling up and whizzing down hills, and even some early morning rowers out on the river Taff, all puffing and panting away.
None of them were in Church; but all were undertaking some significant physical exercise, doing something which required a regular commitment week-in week-out, and which for many of them involved doing it in company, alongside others. This outdoor exercise seemed to be something they considered it valuable enough for their well-being to be out doing in all sorts of weathers. That kind of discipline, that level of commitment didn’t put them off – rather it was part of the appeal, part of what made the exercise, whether running, riding or rowing, so valuable and worthwhile.
It made me think about our understanding, indeed my own discipline and practice of Lent, beyond that commitment over the years to simple lunches and times of prayer and study; that it may not be a time which appears particularly interesting or entertaining to others, but is one which reminds us of the need to commit and be serious about our faith; and that the God who comes to share with us in Jesus Christ is a God who makes some pretty demanding calls upon us – and asks us to ‘shape up’.
It suggested to me that this may be something which folk in the wider world already know, indeed are willing to recognise and understand; namely that the things which matter most are the things which are worth committing to – and that if we were a little more serious about our commitment to the faith we profess, then others might be a little more willing to take it seriously. And maybe that’s the message of Lent; that it’s a time for being serious rather than interesting – but who knows – taking things seriously may just make us and our faith a matter of more than local interest.