Churches plan to return to a more normal Lenten season | Local News

Christians in southwestern Pennsylvania will mark the 40-day period of Lent tomorrow, as Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist congregations, among others, observe Ash Wednesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced churches to modify Ash Wednesday and Lenten services over the past two years, but places of worship are planning – to varying degrees – to return to a more Lenten season. normal.

In Catholic churches, priests will once again have the option of marking the foreheads of parishioners with ashes.

“Ashes will again be laid upon the front,” said Nancy Blake, pastoral assistant for Roman Catholic Churches in Uniontown, Fayette County, which includes St. Joseph, St. Therese, St. John the Evangelist and Saint Jean. Catholic Churches of the Nativity of Mary. “We are starting to return (to pre-pandemic services). We are on the way to a return to normal. »

On February 26, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh began easing COVID-19 restrictions in parishes. Among the changes: priests, deacons and liturgical ministers of the sanctuary, as well as ushers and hosts, will not be required to wear masks at Mass; parishioners can share the peace sign; and the laity can present the gifts of bread and wine used for the consecration. The distribution of the precious blood of the cup, however, remains suspended.

Presbyterian churches do not have a uniform policy for the imposition of ashes, so churches can decide individually how to approach Ash Wednesday.

At First Presbyterian Church in Waynesburg, the distribution of ashes is suspended this year, and instead members of the congregation and those who choose to observe Ash Wednesday at the church will receive necklaces of crosses carved from clay. olive wood from Jerusalem.

Masks are optional for the Ash Wednesday service.

Reverend Mike Haddox, pastor of discipleship and pastoral care at First Presbyterian, said Lent is a time of repentance and reflection, but First Presbyterian asks his congregation to “pick up, not give up.” .

“I know that we as a community and as families have given up a lot over the past two years during the pandemic, and during Lent people ask, ‘What are you giving up? For me, as a pastor, I think it’s an unfair question this year. So for us this year it’s not about giving up, it’s about getting back up,” Haddox said.

He suggested, for example, that people who plan to spend $10 on specialty coffee still get coffee, but offer to take someone with them and treat them, or offer to get someone coffee. one who cannot go out, and visit with them.

Other churches choose to provide small containers of ashes, along with a blessing card that can be used at home.

The United Methodist Church also allows congregations to determine their Ash Wednesday practice.

Jackie Campbell, communications director for the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, said some churches distribute ashes in the shape of a cross on a cloth, while others choose not to distribute ashes at all.

“We don’t have a uniform recommendation at this point,” said Campbell, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in McMurray, noting that churches can hold Ash Wednesday services that reflect what their congregations are up to. easy.

She noted that several churches will offer live streaming, allowing those who are unable or uncomfortable to participate in person.

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