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Christians mark Ash Wednesday with services, sacrifice
Area churches to hold regular Lenten services leading up to Easter
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The Rev. Cynthia Park gives the sermon during the Ash Wednesday service at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Community Lenten worship and luncheons

Feb. 17: Noon, First Baptist, the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham

Feb. 24: Noon, First United Methodist, the Rev. Stephen Samuel

March 2: Noon, Grace Episcopal, the Rev. Lee Koontz

March 9: Noon, St. Michael, Dr. Terry Walton

March 16: Noon, First Presbyterian, Liz Coates

March 23: Noon, St. Paul United Methodist, Father Jaime Barona

There are a few ways to mark the first day of Lent.

Some Christians fast. Others start a Lenten sacrifice, spending the 40 days leading up to Easter giving up sweets and caffeine, or perhaps making a promise to start working out.

But many area Christians celebrated this Ash Wednesday in their churches as pastors wiped black ashes across their foreheads and they prepared their hearts and minds for a season of reflection.

“Lent is the 40 days — excluding Sundays, because Sundays are not counted in Lent — prior to Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter,” said the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham from Grace Episcopal Church. “It’s a season of preparation, of prayer and fasting and reflection.”

Each year, six local churches of different Christian denominations offer community Lenten worship services or luncheons. Pastors from one church will speak during services at another local church each Wednesday leading up to Holy Week.

“It’s the same standard framework each Wednesday,” Higginbotham said. “A different church hosts and a different minister from another parish preaches. And this year, we added another element: A third church brings a choir or quartet or a soloist to do music. So there are three different churches working together on any one Wednesday.”

This year, Higginbotham will speak first at First Baptist Church Gainesville. The Rev. Lee Koontz from First Presbyterian Church will then speak at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, the Rev. Calvin Haney from St. Paul United Methodist Church will speak at Grace Episcopal, and Dr. Terry Walton from Gainesville First United Methodist will speak at St. Michael Catholic Church.

Liz Coates, associate minister at First Baptist will then speak at First Presbyterian, and finally, the Rev. Monsignor Jaime Barona from St. Michael will speak at St. Paul’s.

Higginbotham said the purpose of these services is to realize Christians of different denominations share this common practice of observation and preparation.

“Lent is a time that asks us to take our Christian practice very seriously, to be honest about our own shortcomings and our dependence on grace,” Higginbotham said. “It’s also to realize that we can’t fully appreciate Easter unless we experience some of the significance of Good Friday and of the crucifixion.”

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