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Amid pandemic, Christians begin Lent with Ash Wednesday services



TOPEKA, Kan. – Christians around the world are observing Ash Wednesday today, marking the start of the 40-day period of Lent that leads to Easter.

But because of the coronavirus, things will be different this year.

Some churches in the Topeka area are having in-person Ash Wednesday services with social distancing for attendees, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Other congregations are having online services.

And some are trying some new things, even if it means getting cold in the process.

Topeka’s First Lutheran Church at 1234 SW Fairlawn, is having a drive-through Ash Wednesday event at 7 a.m., noon and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Attendees can drive into the church’s south parking lot, where they will receive the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross that is marked on their foreheads by the Rev. Jenny Jackson, senior pastor of First Lutheran.

Attendees also will hear the pastor read a Scripture passage and have a prayer before receiving a take-home Lenten bag with communion elements.

Jackson was wearing a face mask as she welcomed individuals to the event.

She said the Lenten season reminds people of their own mortality but also points to the hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which will be celebrated on Easter Sunday.

First Lutheran Church also will have an in-person Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It will be the first time in several weeks the congregation has been able to meet for in-person worship.

As she stood outside the church in the snow, Jackson said First Lutheran wanted to offer an Ash Wednesday observance for those who may not feel comfortable coming into a building for a service.

“Given everything,” Jackson said, “so many people may not be comfortable coming to church or may have to stay home, or not come into the building.

“So we’re glad to offer this drive-through imposition of ashes, for people to come through and have an ashen cross marked on their forehead.”

Before the drive-through event began on Wednesday morning, two First Lutheran members helped clear a path through the snow in the church’s south parking lot. A light snow continued to fall as the temperature was around 7 degrees at 7 a.m.

Lent is a 40-day period — excluding Sundays — observed by both Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. It is marked by prayer, fasting, penance and almsgiving.

Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians will celebrate Easter this year on April 4.

Orthodox Christians, meanwhile, will observe Easter on May 2 this year.

Many other area churches are holding Ash Wednesday services both in-person and online on Wednesday.