May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be always with you!
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent. As I mentioned last week, Lent is a 40-day season leading up to Easter. It is traditionally a time of fasting, a time of prayer, a times of giving alms (you'll hear these three practices mentioned in our bible reading at our Ash Wednesday service this evening - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21). But the point of Lent isn't "giving up" things; the point of Lent isn't a competition over who can give up the most difficult things to become like a spiritual Olympics (which, I confess, it sometimes felt like when I was at seminary!); the point of Lent isn't to be like a Holy New Year's Resolution or a Spiritual Diet Plan.
Instead, the season of Lent is a season when we can deepen our relationship with God. "Giving up" things can only accomplish this if we allow God to fill the space that is left behind by the thing that we have given up. The most effective fast for Lent, then, is something that is taking up space in your life that takes you away from God or that prevents you from encountering God.
We had a great conversation about this at Bible Study this morning - a conversation about the things that take up space in our lives without adding to it. We talked about some of the things that are common Lenten fasts - coffee, chocolate etc. These sorts of things are generally harmless in our lives, though there may be the odd example where people may try to replace God's presence with caffeine or chocolate. And the challenge is, when you fast from something like this, the fast itself can take you further away from God if all of your thoughts become centered on how much you are craving a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate.
What sort of fast, then, would create space for God to fill? In my own life, I think that I spend too much time on Social Media - while a full social media fast isn't practical (given the Facebook stuff I do for the church), is there some way that I can limit my social media use (or possibly make it more intentional rather than mindless - I pondered this morning whether there was a way for me to take a moment to pray for everyone who pops up on my Facebook feed rather than mindlessly scrolling past?
I invite you to ponder how you are going to create space for God to enter your life this Lent? Is there something that you need to take out of your life? Is there a practice you want to bring in to your life?
And you are invited to begin this Lenten journey together this evening at 7pm, either in-person at Westfield United or live on our Facebook page. (And if you are joining us on Facebook, this is a communion service, so you can prepare some bread/cracker and some juice/water/wine so that we can celebrate the meal together.)
For other announcements this week:
PIE Day - thank you to our UCW who are providing pies for our after-church pie social on March 12, and to everyone who has volunteered to help give out tarts on pie day itself (March 14). I'm still looking for some folks to volunteer to make tarts for that "free pie" giveaway - please get in touch with me if you are able to help. (If you missed last week's e-mail where I talked about all of our PIE Day plans, you can read it on our website by clicking here.)
Ida's Cupboard - when I pulled into the parking lot at Westfield this morning, I noticed that the cupboard is almost bare. I know that it has been very well used ever since it went up, and this week (the last week of the month) may be a time of extra need in our community. If you are able, please consider dropping of some non-perishable items that won't freeze (ie no canned goods) in the cupboard. Pasta, rice, cereal, powdered milk, granola bars, peanut butter, and dry soup mixes are all great donations.
Earthquake in Turkey/Syria - The United Church of Canada has launched an appeal through our Emergency Response Fund - you can find out more information, including how to make a donation, by clicking here.
Lent Gatherings - beginning next week, we will be gathering every Wednesday evening at 7pm in the parlour at Westfield United for a quiet time of prayer, meditation, and music. In keeping with our overall Lenten theme this year, this time will be a time for us to quiet our hearts, to create space in our hearts, where we may be able to encounter Jesus. Everyone is welcome.
Lent Madness - I had hoped to have the website up and running by today so that I could share the link, but it's not quite there yet. Beginning on Sunday, we're going to be having a "tournament" looking at (almost) all of the stories in the bible of people who encountered Jesus. You can vote for your favourites (and feel free to share with your friends if you want to try and sway the vote!). What criteria should you use? That is up to you! Maybe you will carefully read each story and decide which encounter had a more powerful impact on the person who met Jesus. Maybe you like the name Mary so will vote for all of the Marys. Maybe you will vote for all of the women who encountered Jesus. Like I said, your criteria is up to you! This is set up to run over 6 weeks, so on Easter we will be able to reveal our choice of the "best" encounter with Jesus in the bible (with the term "best" being used very subjectively here - lol). Watch Facebook for a link soon, as well as in next week's mid-week message - each round of voting will last for a week.
Worship on Sunday - This week will be the congregational meeting for Bayswater-Summerville beginning at 9am, woven together with worship. (Bayswater-Summerville folks - I'll be sending you an e-mail with last year's minutes before the meeting.) At Westfield, we will have "regular" worship for the first Sunday in Advent, and we'll be reading the story of the first of our people who encountered Jesus - Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night filled with questions (John 3:1-17). This service will be at 11:15, in-person and on Facebook Live.
Westfield United Church folks - as Chris Patstone announced last week, Session is going to be hosting social times after church through the season of Lent. Each week, Session will provide beverages, and some members of the congregation are invited to bring "eats and sweets" to share. The schedule will be: Feb. 26 - last name A-L March 5 - last name M-P March 12 - PIE Day social with pies provided by the UCW March 19 - last name Q-Z March 26 - Session members April 2 - anyone who missed their week (or who wants to share twice)
Youth Connection - next gathering is Sunday February 26, 7pm, Westfield United Church - all youth in middle- and high-school are welcome to join us!
And that is it for announcements this week - we seem to be moving into another season with lots of announcements.
For a closing thought this week, I want to share an Ash Wednesday blessing with you, written by poet, artist, and theologian Jan Richardson. I am especially drawn to the line in here, "did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?" To read the full blessing, you can click here.
Blessings to you and yours, today and always,
Rev. Kate Jones Two Rivers Pastoral Charge (506) 757-2201 (office) (506) 343-1307 (mobile) www.tworiverspastoralcharge.com Pronouns: she/her/hers "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "You must love your neighbour as you love yourself."