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Community Lenten services are a shared tradition of faith, sacrifice
Lay members will take to pulpit for this year’s weekly Wednesday services
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Gainesville First United Methodist Church associate pastor Carolyn Clifton places the mark of the cross on Joyce Corley Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2015 during Ash Wednesday service. - photo by Scott Rogers

For almost two decades, churches across Gainesville have prepared for Easter by coming together for community services to take part in the Lenten season. It’s the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to the Christian holiday of the Resurrection, and the Rev. Bill Coates said the goal of the services is the same today as it was when he started them.

Wednesday Community Lent Services

When: Noon, Feb. 21, 28 and March 7, 14, 21

More info: www.fbcgainesville.org/visit/lent-at-fbc/, 770-534-7354

“It emphasizes unity, even though we may come from different worship traditions,” said Coates, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. “When we can emphasize what we have in common and worship together, that’s good for the churches, that’s good for the community as a whole, and we love it.”

In years past, following the week of Ash Wednesday, congregations have joined once a week at a different church, where a minister from one of the other churches would speak.

This year, things will be a little different as a community member will speak at noon each Wednesday from Feb. 21 through March 21.

“They hear from us all the time,” Coates said. “So this time they get to hear a voice coming from a totally different perspective. It will still have the same spiritual base because everybody who’s speaking is speaking as faithful Christians of whatever tradition they’re from. But this year it has a real tone of practicality to it.”

Coates said the community members who will be speaking will be focused on practical ways to help people in Gainesville. He wants to make sure this time of Lent is about coming together “to experience some sort of deprivation” so they’re able to “identify with people who don’t have as much,” and in turn, help where it’s needed.

Barbara Brooks, a city council member in Gainesville, and Ben McDade, director of development programs at Brenau University, will be among those helping spread that message at the community services.

“I’m always pleased and honored when I am asked to contribute to the greater conversation of God in this community,” McDade said. “I think this season of the year is important for all of us as a time to reflect on our state of spirituality.”

Geoff Grubbs, senior pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church said “that’s literally what Lent is about.” For him, Lent is a time for the church to come together for self-examination.

“It’s looking at ourselves and finding ways not to beat ourselves up, but look at who we are and find ways to not just be better Christians, but better people,” Grubbs said.

Grace Episcopal, First Baptist, St. Paul United Methodist, Gainesville First United Methodist and First Presbyterian churches all will take part. Coates said having that many churches come together for these services has made a difference in the community.

“I can sense it now, people know one another who didn’t know each other before,” Coates said. “We all lived in separate churches, and to some extent in separate worlds, but now, every time I go to Grace Episcopal for one of their community services, I feel like I know 90 percent of the people there and likewise when they come here.”

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