by Jennifer Bowman
The Christmas of 2005 was a different one for me. That Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday, and my grandmother (on my mother's side) insisted that we all go to church before opening presents. My dad and I, the spiritual beings that we are, protested enormously. Not get to open presents until the afternoon?! Travesty! We finally convinced her, either through volume or reason (because with us, both work equally) and we came to a compromise: we attend a night Christmas Eve church service at some church in Cleveland and we don't have to go to church on Sunday morning.
The church that worked most with our schedules happened to be St. Luke's Episcopal. I'd never been in a church that began with "St." before, other than as a mere tourist in Washington, D.C. I fell in love with the liturgical side of church almost immediately. It seemed so beautiful, so sincere - but it was still Protestant.
So this Wednesday, Lee University held an Ash Wednesday service. All were welcome, and I jumped at the opportunity to engage in the ecumenical services again. I got a nail to represent Christ (which I have since lost in less than 24 hours) and a prayer booklet for all forty days of Lent. I took communion with a wafer dipped in non-alcoholic wine. They normally use real wine, but due to some taking vows against alcohol during Lent, they didn't.
The priest marked the ash on my forehead in the shape of a cross. I was later amazed by the Christian people at Lee University who had no idea what it was there for and why. I felt a bit like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter.
What have I given up for Lent? One of my favorite foods: ice cream, in all its glorious forms. I'm not quite sure what the other rules of Lent are because I'm merely a Pentecostal with a taste for liturgy. Yes, despite all this, I'm still a dead-set member of the Church of God. While I appreciate and love the beauty in the Episcopalian church, and am following its customs for at least forty days, I still love that fire that comes with what we would call a "holy ghost revival!"
But my religious curiosity is strong. One of my secret never-to-be-attained fantasy goals is to attend every church in Cleveland, Tennessee. And that's a lot: Bradley County has more churches per capita than any other county in the United States. Lee University has taught me to learn how much I love the diversity of speakers and styles in preaching. And I know for a fact from several religious debates that there is a lot of catholic diversity (at least in Christianity!) in Cleveland.
I hope to eventually fulfill all my wanderlust desires. Since I can't really go anywhere right now, I can start with Bradley County's most important commodity: churches. Celebrating Lent certainly seems like a good introduction.