More than 100 members from seven different Lincoln County churches gathered Wednesday at First United Methodist Church in Lincolnton to commemorate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.
For more than 35 years, the Community Lenten Series has taken place, each week gathering an average of 150 church members from various denominations for food, fellowship, worship and a Biblically based sermon.
The series will run through April 16 this year.
Pastors and reverends from each of the worship facilities participate in the weekly event, dividing duties among themselves.
From delivering the sermon, saying a particular prayer or reading a Scripture verse, the religious leaders carry out a different task each time, First UMC pastor Rev. David Wyant said.
He referred to Lincoln County as an “ecumenical community” where faith is a significant part of people’s daily living.
From topics on Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ disciples and other widely known Bible characters, weekly sermon topics are centered around this year’s theme of “Close Encounters with Christ.”
According to Dr. Stanley Spence, head of Lincolnton’s First Baptist Church, the Lenten season is meant to be a period of personal meditation for every Christian.
He believes that the special time leading up to the Easter is when God especially calls sinners to release their burdens and focus more on their spiritual relationship, fulfilling God’s purpose for themselves and living stress free.
“It’s an opportunity to enter a season of reflection and introspection,” Spence said, “for the stressors that stand between (sin and) a life more worthy of what God would have us do.”
This is the first year First Christian Church, also located in Lincolnton, has participated in the series; it’s the second year for St. Matthews United Church of Christ in Maiden.
While St. Matthews reverend, Jay Jachowski, said his congregation typically maintains involvement in Catawba County’s church-related activities, they are technically located within Lincoln lines and want to fellowship with members of both county’s communities.
Church members Ruth Haynes, whose family owns Haynes Dairy Farm in Lincolnton, and Shirley McRee were on hand Wednesday to support their pastor as he delivered the first Lenten series message, a sermon on a man born blind.
Jachowski detailed for the crowd how the man’s faith and encounter with Jesus miraculously healed him. The Maiden pastor also compared physical blindness to spiritual blindness and the inability to recognize one’s own weaknesses and sin.
“Often we are blind…about the truth of ourselves,” he said. “Christ comes to us and opens our eyes to see the truth…that keeps us from being the person God wants us to be.”
Near the sermon’s conclusion, Jachowski broke out in song, singing the famous words of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.”
Within a matter of seconds, the crowd joined in, filling the room with a solemn sound.
Following the sermon, individuals lined up to receive ashes, administered in a cross formation, on their foreheads.
The ashes serve as a symbolic reminder of one’s mortality, and to each person, pastors recited the phrase, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Haynes felt it necessary to join the celebratory event to not only meet others in the Christian faith but also focus on her own spiritual walk.
“It brings you closer to God,” she said of the Lenten season.
Each of the churches involved in the annual series stem from one historic facility known as the “Old White Church,” Jachowski said.
Located in Lincolnton, various denominations flocked to the building each Sunday, until fire destroyed it in the late 1800s.
Jachowski said past generations of his current congregation branched out from the small white chapel several years earlier, in 1837, to form St. Matthews.
“The congregation decided it was too far to take carriages down to Lincolnton,” he said.
However, the Lenten Series reunites the churches in a special way each year.
“Two hundred years later, we’re still worshiping together,” Haynes said.
Additional churches participating in the Community Lenten Series this year include First Presbyterian, Emmanuel Lutheran and Pisgah United Methodist.