Muskogee’s faithful will take various roads on their journey to Easter this year.
Wednesday began the 40-day period of prayer, fasting and preparation called Lent. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the period ends on Holy Thursday, right before Easter, which falls on April 4 this year. Several Protestant denominations also observe Lent.
“We’re asking God to help us examine our own hearts, examine our lives,” said the Rev. Emery Mason, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church. “There are some disciplines that individuals sometimes incorporate into that.”
Such disciplines can be practiced in groups, as well as by individuals.
The church will offer book studies of the Rev. Tom Berlin’s “Restored: Finding Redemption in Our Mess” over the next six weeks.
“One is via Zoom for people who don’t feel comfortable gathering in person,” he said. “The other will be in person in a large room.”
Sarah Megan Kelley of Fort Gibson recalled learning Lenten disciplines at an early age.
“I attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and took my first communion with my parents when I was about 8 years old. In school we would always go to mass on Wednesday mornings at 9, so we would receive our ashes first,” she said. “We were taught at a young age about fasting during the Lenten season and having to give up one item — food, drink or a thing.”
She said she still seeks to give up at least one item during Lent.
“This year I choose to give up all fried foods,” she said. “Another thing we do is give up red meat and most Catholics will try to not eat red meat on Fridays, so we always usually eat fish.”
Kelley said she attends added services the church offers during Lent. The church observes the Stations of the Cross, devotions reflecting Christ’s final day before crucifixion, each Friday.
“We go to church and hear our priest recite the stations along with singing a hymn. For each one we will kneel and genuflect on each station,” Kelley said.
She said that as St. Joseph Catholic Church approaches Easter, “we will combine the Hispanic choir, Vietnamese and the English-speaking choirs together in a harmonious song for our Easter Vigil, which takes place the day before Easter.”
Kelley said observing Lent “means you are practicing your faith as a Catholic member.”
Mary Ann Couch of Muskogee said she encountered Lenten practices as an adult, when she married a Presbyterian.
“The first memory I have of Lent as a concrete thing was Lenten school,” she said.
A church she attended in San Antonio offered a Bible studies and other classes during the Lenten school.
“It was really fun, and it got people in the church to know different people in the church,” she said. “I thought it was such a wonderful approach for Lent. I didn’t like the idea of giving something up. I like the idea of adding something.”
She said she plans to take part in a Zoom Sunday school class offered by Presbyterian Church of Muskogee this year at 9:30 a.m.
“We’ll get an email saying ‘if you want to attend, this is how,’” Couch said, calling such Lenten studies a benefit, not a sacrifice.
Mason said he has engaged in such practices as fasting, or giving things up, during Lent.
“I still do some of that, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward substituting things,” he said. “Not just giving things up, such as spending money on a certain thing. Instead, spend that money to help someone. I find it more and more satisfying personally to make some adjustments in my lifestyle.”
He said he finds himself keeping some disciplines after the season ends.
“That’s part of the intent, in that we won’t just make improvements in our life during that season,” he said. “When we grow in a way that sticks around, that we maintain that as part of who we are.”
If you go
WHAT: Lenten book study “Restored: Finding Redemption in our Mess.”
IN PERSON: 6 p.m. Thursdays, St. Paul United Methodist Church, 2130 W. Okmulgee Ave.
ONLINE: Noon Tuesdays. Contact church office to set up Zoom link.
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WHAT: Holy Hour and Stations of the Cross.
WHEN: Holy Hour, 6 p.m. and Stations, 7 p.m. Fridays through March 26.
WHERE: St. Joseph Catholic Church, 321 N. Virginia St.