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Churches burn away baggage and pray for the new year
Barbara Hurley puts her list of things she wants to leave behind in a bowl during the Burning Bowl Ceremony at the Unity Church of Gainesville Sunday. - photo by Tom Reed

Most people make New Year’s resolutions that focus on improving the physical and material aspects of life.

But a couple of Gainesville churches are hoping to inspire the hearts and spirits of people as they enter 2013.

The members of Unity Church of Gainesville gathered together to reflect on the past year before they watched their mistakes go up in smoke on Sunday morning.

The traditional Burning Bowl Ceremony gave churchgoers an opportunity to let go of their past and celebrate the new year ahead.

The Rev. Terrence Padgett, ministry consultant for Unity Southeast Region, said the ceremony gives people a way to heal on a spiritual level.

He said all healing, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, comes from within. The ceremony provided an opportunity for people to think about where they’ve been, how they’ve grown and where they want to be in the future.

"Sometimes it brings stuff up for people," Padgett said. "It touches people on deeper levels, and it depends on where they’re at and how open and willing they are for their spirit to reveal what needs to be revealed."

During the service, the members wrote down the negative feelings and hardships they’d experienced in the past on a small square of flash paper. The members dropped the paper into a bowl that held a burning candle.

Almost immediately after the flame touched the paper, it was gone. The act of burning the paper symbolically freed the writer of whatever they wanted to let go.

Several of the members laughed out loud after seeing their slips of paper disappear. They walked back to their seats with smiles on their faces.

After a guided meditation, the church members wrote letters to themselves detailing what they hoped to achieve in the coming year. The church will mail the letters to the members at the end of 2013.

Vickey Cleghorn has been attending services at Unity for the last few years. This was the first time she attended the New Year’s ceremony.

"I loved it," Cleghorn said. "It gave me an opportunity to really reflect on what I wanted to let go of and what I wanted to gain in my life. It just kind of gives you a focal point."

Praying through the darkness

Another local church is hoping to start the year on a positive note in spite of recent tragedies.

Lifeline Mission Center on Calvary Church Road in Gainesville held its first New Year’s celebration called "Thirteen to Bring in 2013." The church prayed for 13 hours straight from 6 p.m. on Monday evening to 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Rocky Pridgen, co-founder of the church, said the church focused on 52 specific issues, one for every week of the coming year.

They prayed for the family of Charles Weaver, a Gainesville man who was shot and killed at his workplace on Friday. They prayed for the victims of events like the tragic mass shooting in Connecticut.

The topics also included general issues like education, health, safety and for the issues that impact the entire nation— including the economy and politics.

Wanda Atkins, co-founder of the church, said the idea to pray through the night has a special significance.

"Our heart is to see the change come," Atkins said. "If you think about it this way, if you stay and you pray until the daylight comes then you’ve prayed yourself through the darkness."

Pridgen said the 13 hours of prayer is a great way for the new church to start the year because it provides people with an opportunity to focus on something bigger than themselves.

"Everyone is making resolutions right now," Pridgen said. "They want to get in better shape, join a gym ... but when people try to fulfill their flesh, the motivation and the stick-to-it-ness kind of wears off over the next few weeks. But when people work on their relationship with God, he pours back into them."

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