On a very cold Ash Wednesday, our church offered “Ashes to Go” for the first time in the Richmond Town Center Parking lot in the morning and later in the day in front of the Richmond Market. Ashes to Go is part of a nationwide movement.[i] Though the air was chilly, I was warmed by the several interactions I had with people. People who stopped to receive ashes included church members who could not attend the Ash Wednesday Service, people on their way home to or from work, a couple new to the area, parents with a young child who saw the ad on Front Porch Forum but knew they couldn’t make it to an evening service, an elderly Catholic woman returning from a doctor’s appointment, and several others who were curious.
In the morning at the Town Center, one of our Deacons, Ingrid, also joined me. We waved to the cars and school buses passing on Bridge Street. Next year, I think we should also have free coffee. Though Ash Wednesday is often a somber occasion marking the start of Lent, it was incredibly joyful to talk to people, wave to them, and offer them a ritual blessing and reminder to seek God’s way. If this isn’t spreading the Good News, I’m not sure what is!
A recent article published in the Hartford Courant, “How Often Do WeGo To Church? In New England, Not That Much,”[ii] cites that New England has among the lowest rates of church attendance in the United States, according to a 2014 Gallup Poll. Vermont occupies the number one spot on that list with an estimated 17% of the population attending church regularly, compared to 20% in Maine and New Hampshire and 22% in Massachusetts. Critics of the survey suggest that even these numbers are inflated! How do you respond to these numbers? As a pastor, this just reinforces my belief that people need to know, see and hear why we, in all of our diversity of opinions and experiences and backgrounds, chose to be a part of a faith community like RCC.
Making faith relevant is not a new conversation. Jesus’ ministry centered on reaching and teaching people using parables, stories, and lessons from their common experiences. I wonder, where do you find places of resonance or dissonance between your life, the life of our congregation and your relationship with the Holy? How can we make our faith more visible in the Richmond community? What could we do to encourage and empower each other in these efforts? Lent is the ideal time to delve into such questions together.
As we continue through this Lenten season, I pray that God, who fashioned us each from dust, be made more relevant and real to you.