WILLIAMSBURG — This time of year, many Williamsburg residents are giving things up.
For 40 days — from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday — Christians sacrifice and fast for Lent, commemorating the life, death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
While some residents are giving up cookies, alcohol, television or social media for Lent, others are taking a different approach.
From writing postcards to family, to volunteering at shelters and donating to those in need, local religious leaders are encouraging Williamsburg’s faith community to not only give up goods, but give back during Lent.
It all comes with the same goals: Reconnect with God, renew one’s faith and remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
“One of the greatest sacrifices that we can give in this time of Lent is our time,” said the Rev. Bill Harmon, pastor and executive director of King of Glory Lutheran Church and School. “
… In Lent especially, giving up up time in order to feed the homeless, giving up time in order to care for the sick, giving up time to send an encouraging card to someone in need, giving up time to walk with someone in times of struggle, these are all great ways to express your faith and honor God.”
From the Vatican
The emphasis on service is not only carried by religious leaders in Williamsburg, but also by Pope Francis himself.
In his 2018 message about Lent, released the day before Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, the pope encouraged Christians to pray and give to those in need.
“Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us!” the pope wrote.
He continued: “This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God Himself.”
Giving back locally
Leaders from several area churches, including Saint Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg Christian Church, Bruton Parish Episcopal Church and King of Glory Lutheran Church, all encourage their congregations to celebrate Lent by both giving up and giving back.
“It’s not an either-or,” St. Bede Catholic Church Monsignor Timothy Keeney said. “The traditional practices of Lent are fasting, prayer and works of charity. Works of charity and prayer are always those positive things we do for the community.”
King of Glory encourages giving to charitable organizations year-round, but Lent is an opportune time to do so, Harmon said.
Throughout Lent, the King of Glory church members assist 3e Restoration, a nonprofit that supports individuals experiencing homelessness and poverty, make meals for the homeless, collect donations for Hope Pregnancy Center, make Easter Baskets (complete Easter meals) for the less fortunate, collect food for FISH, visit the jail through the church’s jail ministry and more, Harmon added.
In Williamsburg Christian Church Pastor Fred Liggin IV’s eyes, giving back and giving something up aren’t mutually exclusive.
“I could say that every time I bought something new, I had to give something else up,” Liggin said. “For example, if I buy a new shirt, I have to give one away that I really like.”
Williamsburg Christian Church has not always celebrated Lent, Liggin said. The pastor has been working to introduce Lent to the congregation for about four years.
“It is a time for sacrifice and taking on new risks for the gospel because this is what Jesus did,” Liggin said.
Lent tradition and taking things on
Lent is a celebration steeped in tradition, but Bruton Parish Episcopal Church is also encouraging its members to “find what is meaningful.”
Established in 1674, the Episcopal church in Colonial Williamsburg maintains tradition, but also encourages its members to “do whatever they feel God is calling them to do.”
“Self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial — those are the things that are officially what our prayer book invites us to participate in,” Associate Rector for Outreach and Women’s Ministries the Rev. Lauren M. McDonald said.
During Lent, the church is also reading the Gospel of Luke, a part of the Bible that discusses helping the poor and people who are marginalized, McDonald said.
The church is also giving out boxes to both children and adults for donations. The donations go to the United Thank Offering, which benefits both national and international organizations that go on mission trips.
Personally, McDonald said the most powerful thing she ever took on during Lent was write down the names of 40 people needed to forgive. Each day, she drew a name and worked to forgive each person, whether it was a big or small issue.
“The emphasis is on prayer, almsgiving, fasting and reading scripture, but that was one of the most powerful things I did for Lent,” she said.