Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
Community members gathered on Ash Wednesday for Lincoln County’s annual Community Lenten Series kickoff luncheon and worship service, held this year at First United Methodist Church in Lincolnton, to strengthen their faith and prepare their spirits for the upcoming Easter season.
The series is a joint effort of seven Lincoln County churches.
“The opportunity to be here is a real statement of our faith,” Pat Wilhelm told the Times-News.
The Emmanuel Lutheran Church music director attends the event every year and looks forward to the interdenominational fellowship as well as the impact that the seven-week long series has on her soul.
“These services beforehand make Easter that much more meaningful,” she said.
According to First United Methodist Church pastor Rev. David Wyant, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season, during which time Christian believers from various denominations look inward to reflect on their spiritual nature.
“It’s a time of mourning and turning and feeling sorrowful for your life, ridding yourself of anything that prevents you from being spiritual (and close to God),” he said.
This year’s Lenten series will focus on the “I Am” sayings of Christ as recorded in the Gospel of John and will feature a sermon from a different local church leader each week.
Pastor Michael Collins, of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Lincolnton, delivered the kickoff message, reminding Christians of Christ’s importance in their individual lives.
“Jesus came to give us what we really need,” he said, “not what we want. What we truly need is a Savior.”
Midway through the service, the Rev. Ray Fancher, interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Dr. Judy Eurey of Pisgah United Methodist Church, both in Lincolnton, administered ashes to the crowd, using them to sign the cross on each person’s forehead while repeating the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lincolnton residents, Shirley and Bob Combs, members of Boger City United Methodist Church in Lincolnton, were just two of the many believers on-hand to receive ashes. Bob, former pastor of Ivey Memorial United Methodist Church in Maiden, and his wife said they feel “at home in the Methodist church” community and have yet to miss the Community Lenten Series kickoff since its commencement several years ago.
“It’s just very important,” Shirley said. “Easter is a very special time for us. It commemorates something our Lord has done for us, and I want to show Him I’m grateful.”
Several additional area churches held special services Wednesday evening and offered their congregations ashes. However, for some residents, like Don Fisher, health issues prevented them from getting out into the community but, due to the importance of their Christian faith, requested the symbolic act take place in their homes.
Nearly 90 years old, the retired Asbury United Methodist preacher is under local hospice care for dementia and Parkinson’s disease and uses a walker to move around his more than 120-year-old residence, most of which he’s renovated himself over the last several decades.
Lincoln County Hospice & Palliative Care Chaplain Earlynne Bartley read Psalm 51 aloud Wednesday morning before rubbing ashes, comprised of burned palm branches used at Asbury’s previous Easter celebration, on her patient’s head. She also recited the significance of the ashes, noting how they “remind us of our human mortality, of our sin but also our hope.”
“That’s a first,” Fisher, who was all smiles, said after Bartley finished.
He told the Times-News he knew the Lord wanted him to be a preacher after bringing him home unscathed from an overseas operation with the army during World War II.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you want me to be a preacher, make sure I get back safe,’” Fisher said. He specifically recounted the fearfulness he felt while taking cover behind a tree in the midst of German combat territory.
“The bullets knocked off the bark on both sides of the tree,” he said.
Bartley visits him a couple times a month, aside from hospice nurse visits, and has no doubt his faith is an important part of his life.
“He’s really secure in his beliefs,” she said.
Additional churches participating in this year’s Lenten Series include First Baptist Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and St. Matthew’s United Church of Christ.
Community Lenten services will be 12 p.m. each Wednesday. Contact one of the churches for more information.