This time last year, we were blissfully unaware that our lives were about to be drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In my church in the Episcopal tradition, we were planning our routine Ash Wednesday services and Lenten programs, with the latter being transferred completely online in a scramble as everything shut down.
This year, we have been living within the bounds of pandemic life for over ten months. My church is not having any in person services right now, and so we began talking about what might be meaningfully adapted for Lent with a mixture of grief, resolve, and creativity. There is relief in not having to scramble this year, but adapting safe and meaningful ways to move through Lent takes a different kind of resilience when we are already tapped out through many months of ambiguous loss, adaptation fatigue, and personal loss. As I participate in online discussions about what folks are doing for Lent, I hear similar sentiments. Therefore, I offer this small collection of ideas in hopes that they save you some of that precious energy for other things that need tending.
Outdoor prayer practices
These suggestions are fitting if you have a church space or space around your home or property to create public prayer stations where people can safely follow the precautions of your local government while participating.
Holy Trouble Makers & Unconventional Saints or other book stations
The Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Priest Associate for Children, Youth, and Families at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seattle created prayer stations on the grounds of the church from Daneen Akers’ beautiful and compelling children’s book Holy Trouble Makers & Unconventional Saints.
(Rev. Rebecca shares, “Make sure you get the publisher and author’s permission to use the book for your prayer stations.)
Stations of the Cross for your neighborhood
Create a neighborhood map with station stops on it along with prayers for Stations of the Cross that people can either access on their phone as they walk or can download and print off to carry with them. The stops can be simple, such as ‘The corner of Main Street and First Avenue,’ so that there is no extra work involved in setting up particular stations. Neighborhood Liturgy Project has some excellent examples.
Enhancing the Stations:
- Add prayers for your civic leaders, local government, and local social services, charities, and ministries at each station.
- Create a hashtag for people to use if they want to upload pictures to social media.
- Adapting the Stations to Zoom: Have a different ministry or household be in charge of one of the Stations and create a prayer activity for it. Schedule a time to do the service together and have each group lead their activity.
A listening walk – (altered) labyrinth walk for your neighborhood
I first came across this idea from the innovative and deeply thoughtful pastor, Rev. Rebecca Joy Sumner, of Welcome Table Christian Church in Seattle and have adapted this to various places I have served.
Rev. Sumner created what she called (altered) labyrinth walks inspired by the children’s book A Listening Walk by Paul Showers. To do this yourself, create a map (or maps) of walks throughout your neighborhood that people can access online and download. Have the walking routes start and end at your church.
The format of the walks includes prayer, silence, and noticing. At the start of the walk, instruct those participating to spend some time in silence and pray “God of [your neighborhood name]…I am listening.” During the walk people should take notice of what they see, repeating the initial prayer as a mantra to stay focused on what God may want them to observe. When walkers return to the church, have them jot down what they noticed so that the church can bring it to the community’s attention in serving the needs of the neighborhood. Close in prayer.
To do a a listening walk with kids, Rev. Sumner created prompts for kids that is helpful for adults, too. You can create your own sheet with the questions she used.
- What do you hear on our listening walk?
- What do you hear with your ears? Birds? Cars? People? Wind?
- What do you hear with your heart? Happy places? Sad places? Scary places? Silly places? Do you feel like somewhere inside maybe God is talking as you walk?
- What do you see with your eyes? Trees? Buildings? Garbage? Chairs? People? Mountains?
- What do you smell with your nose? Flowers? Food? Garbage? Cars?
A lenten garden prayer station
The beginning of spring happens during Lent in the northern hemisphere. If you have a space on your church grounds to dedicate to planting a few early spring plants, it can be a way to physically watch the unfurling of Lent into Easter. You can also invite people to bring a stone and their prayers to that space, leaving the stone behind to create a cairn—marking a significant time and place.
A mini-garden prayer station can be done at home with a pot and some seeds or small plants indoors. I have done this with children and bean seeds because they grow fairly rapidly. You may measure the progress throughout Lent to Easter, saying a Lenten prayer from week to week.
Additional resource for gardening:
Praying indoors with a home altar
This could be its own article because there is so much you can do with a home altar, but I am going to focus on Lent. Many churches have altar guilds or other ministries that are dedicated to the decorating of the altar to reflect liturgical seasons. With many of our church buildings closed, we do not get to witness the seasonal change in the altar area at church like we would in past years. We can have a home altar at any time, but perhaps this pandemic season is when this connection to our liturgical seasons feels most significant. Here are some suggestions of what to put on your Lenten home altar:
- Purple is the liturgical color in Lent, so placing purple cloth, ribbon, or other objects would be appropriate.
- Rocks, sticks, leaves, or anything from nature that resonates with you.
- Candles, either match and wick or electric.
- Written dedication or intention about repenting and returning to Christ during Lent.
- Scripture verses from the lectionary during Lent.
- Prayer lists or other prayers that are significant to you.
- Pictures of saints, loved ones, or anything else that inspires you to follow Jesus more closely than before.
Home Altar examples: Here is a brief article with a few examples of home altars from Earth & Altar blog/magazine.
There are many more resources out there for Lenten prayer stations if you do a quick search on the internet, but I hope that these will get you started, save you some time, and connect you more deeply with your community, yourself, and God. What ideas will you bring to your community?