Local Christians have something in common – Lent

The Rev. Larry Gallegos at Sacred Heart Catholic Church places a symbol of the cross in ash onto the forehead of church Deacon Toby Romero. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of penitence leading up to Easter. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald;

The Rev. Larry Gallegos at Sacred Heart Catholic Church places a symbol of the cross in ash onto the forehead of church Deacon Toby Romero. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of penitence leading up to Easter.

Durango’s ecumenical Lenten services illustrate how Christians have more similarities than differences when observing one of the religion’s pivotal holidays.

Ash Wednesday kicked off this week as one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar – Lent, the time for penance and preparation for Easter.

“It essentially goes from Ash Wednesday through the Saturday night before Easter,” said Jeff Huber, the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Durango. “The Christian calendar is pretty consistent, even for nondenominational churches – 40 days plus the six Sundays in that period.”

Five local churches will celebrate the period together. This year, Easter is April 8.

Forty is a significant number in Christianity. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, and the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert before arriving in the Promised Land after escaping Egypt.

Weekly Lenten services in Durango were started about 20 years ago by the Rev. Andrew Cooley, then at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and the Rev. John Knutson of Christ the King Lutheran Church.

“There was actually a short discussion this year about discontinuing them,” Huber said. Three of the five participating churches are going through pastoral changes, with interim pastors at St. Mark’s and First Presbyterian and Knutson preparing to move to a new church. “But then we decided we needed to keep going.”

Attendance has varied from 50 to 150, depending on the weather, what else is going on and whether or not something special is offered.

“One year, we had a mini-orchestra and choir,” Huber said, “and there was quite a good turnout for that. The biggest challenge is that people who are younger have a hard time coming on Wednesday nights because they have kids and commitments.”

There are more similarities than differences among denominations over the observance of Lent, Huber said. While fasting and not eating meat on Fridays is more often a Roman Catholic tradition, some Methodists do it, too.

“The traditions go back to the third or fourth century, before the split,” he said. “What’s been really interesting is nondenominational churches doing more observances now, too.”

The Lenten services focus on prayer, music and Scripture reading, but no sermons, Huber said. The hosting church offers a soup supper afterward, where worshipers from all faith traditions can break bread together.

“The idea is just to gather as Christians and be together,” Huber said.

abutler@durangoherald.com

Parishioners hold hands during Ash Wednesday services conducted by the Rev. Larry Gallegos at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Parishioners hold hands during Ash Wednesday services conducted by the Rev. Larry Gallegos at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.