Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Church's Ash Wednesday Ritual Symbolizes Renewal Ceremony Refocuses Lent Tradition

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Church's Ash Wednesday Ritual Symbolizes Renewal Ceremony Refocuses Lent Tradition

Article excerpt

Many Christians will be wearing ashes on their foreheads today - this first day of Lent - as a sign of penance and a reminder of their mortality.

But the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves will be using ashes as a symbol of something else: The fertile soil where God plants seeds.

In an Ash Wednesday ritual tonight, the Rev. David Mehl, interim senior pastor, will invite each member of the congregation to write on a slip of paper a sin, a problem or a negative characteristic they would like to shed. In silence, the participants will come forward and place their folded papers in a steel bowl.

"When everyone's done, I ignite the papers, and then we watch the fire crackle and flame," Mehl says. The remaining ashes contain "the seeds of God's grace and our own renewal."

As humans, Mehl says, "there's a sense of dustiness about us, something sooty, and this is what we'd like to be cleansed of. We are always in battle, always struggling.

"But out of that humanness, that humus or earthiness, comes a God that wants to plant seeds of new life. Out of the ash heap comes new soil."

The church, part of the United Church of Christ denomination, is among a number of Protestant churches using ashes rituals to mark the start of Lent. Many of the churches are marking foreheads of the faithful with ashes, a traditional ceremony for Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.

Traditionally, churches burn palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday observance to make ashes. Several Catholic churches were burning fronds in special ceremonies on Tuesday to prepare for today's services.

The season of Lent precedes Easter, on April 3 this year, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Lent is generally a time of repentance and spiritual reflection.

Lent runs 40 days, excluding Sundays, and that number corresponds to the time Moses spent on the mountain, the duration of Elijah's journey, and the length of Jesus' fast in the desert.

First Congregational, at 10 Lockwood Avenue, tried marking foreheads with ashes on Ash Wednesday several years go, but members didn't like that. …

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