Midweek during Lent
Taking time to brainstorm ideas for Lenten studies and activities can be very productive. Early planning provides opportunities to consider your congregation’s discipleship goals and ways to build community. Thinking through options in advance allows pastors and educators to collect the desired resources and organize schedules. The ultimate reward for everyone, including the worship and education committees, is a more thoughtful, relaxed approach to preparation and implementation, an attitude that fits the liturgical season of reflection and contemplation.
Midweek meal with evening prayer
Whether your congregation has a weekly meal, worship service, or study, consider a simple menu of soup and salad, followed by a half hour of prayer around the tables for the six weeks of Lent. The simplicity of the meal lightens the load for regular kitchen staff or is easily prepared by different groups taking turns. The symbolism of a simple meal and prayer is appropriate for Lent. Praying for a limited time around the tables is informal and welcoming of all ages and abilities. Décor can be a solitary candle in the center of the room to represent the presence and light of Christ in the world. Provide a transition from the meal to prayer with simple music and the lighting of the Christ candle. The evening prayer service from the Book of Common Worship can be used. Include times of petition for everyone to participate with paper and drawing materials for those who want to write or draw their prayers. Sing a response, such as “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” from Taize, between prayers offered. Provide a place to post written blessings or prayers of petition that accumulate over the six weeks. Transition these prayers or other elements of the weekly prayer services into the final or more formal services of Holy Week.
Lenten adult studies
More in-depth adult study on Sunday morning or midweek may be the goal for some congregations during Lent. Intentionally taking time for something unique during this season can reenergize educational ministry and provide entry points for new participants.
Consider using resources from the Being Reformed series for adults. Each topical study is six weeks long, but it can be adapted to fit your setting and time frame. A participant’s book provides readings for reflection; a leader’s guide offers questions and activities for guiding the discussions. Congregational Ministries Publishing, your denominational curriculum publisher, creates these studies with one or more introduced before Lent each year. Looking at the Cross is new in the series for 2012. Other popular Lenten titles are Seven Days to Glory and Temptation in the Desert. See all the titles on the Congregational Ministries Publishing website or in the Church Store.
Congregational Ministries Publishing also introduces a Lenten study from Witherspoon Press each year. Open to Me the Gates by Gradye Parsons will be available for 2012. Past Lenten studies from Witherspoon Press to consider are God’s Abundant Table by Cynthia M. Campbell and Knowing God’s Triune Story by Michael Lindvall.
Lent can be an excellent time to take the community of faith out of the church building. The early church gathered in homes around food, prayer, and study. We can adopt this practice as a spiritual discipline during Lent. Form groups of ten to twelve church members and friends that will meet in a host home for the season. Alternatively, invite self-selected groups to move from house to house. Ask each group to invite one visitor or newcomer to its gatherings. Remind groups that this time is not intended to add the stress of a super-clean or amazingly decorated home. It is a time of humility and sharing that says very simply, “We are the church no matter where we are. What we have, we share. Come and be welcome.”
Consider a simple meal that you make together with everyone bringing one ingredient or contributing one item. It could be a build-your-own taco, pizza, or hoagie night. The meal could be pots of soup and sandwiches provided by those who are not hosting. The program can be predesigned for each week in all homes and for all ages. It can include a Bible passage or story, a simple craft or way to respond to the story or readings, and a time of prayer or singing. Keep it simple. Carry community relationships that were built over the six weeks in homes to the Maundy Thursday service of communion, inviting house church groups to sit together at a table and to serve one another. Repeat house churches each year, mixing up the groups and inviting new members and seekers to experience this form of Lenten practice.
Prayer partners, spiritual guides, coaches or mentors
The season of Lent can be an important time for connecting people in the congregation with a spiritual partner or guide. Think about your disciples and their needs for fellowship, accountability, and encouragement. You may decide to assign or select prayer partners for Lent, individuals who make a covenant to be in contact once a week to share prayer concerns and to pray together about their individual and mutual faith journeys. New members, and the individuals who serve as their sponsors, may be given new discussion topics or a mission assignment to complete during Lent. Older members may be asked to serve as Lenten mentors for younger members. The main goal for any relational ministry between church members during Lent is to encourage a deeper level of sharing and trust around faith questions and experiences that strengthen, support, and nurture disciples and the community throughout the year. Provide guidelines and training if intense coaching or mentoring relationships are introduced during Lent