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Why Ashes? by Connie McNeill

Why Ashes? 

February 17, 2015

I don’t remember any mention of Ash Wednesday or Lent or Holy Week. We did make note that it was Palm Sunday and Easter. My faithful attendance at a rural non-cushioned-pew, mostly Baptist church, just didn’t include these things as I grew up. My Roman Catholic friends ate fish on Friday. I only knew that because we always had fish sticks at school on Fridays and not being one who enjoys repeat foods I asked why. My Lutheran friends would talk about what they had “given up for Lent” but I had no idea what they meant. My Methodist and Disciple friends always made a really big deal about Holy Week but I was never sure my calendar included that week.

Through the years, and choosing to deliberately understand the rich and robust elements of other Christian traditions, I have embraced many new traditions in my adult Christian life that give it deep meaning. I also now understand that these traditions have not belonged to only one tradition or another. Much of the Christian church has practiced these traditions and symbolic rituals in order to help bring spiritual renewal and vitality to the life of faith.

This coming Wednesday, February 18th is Ash Wednesday. It is a date that moves in relationship to when Easter occurs. It marks the beginning of Lent which is 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter on the calendar. It represents 40 days of fasting (abstaining from something one deliberately chooses to give up so that time can be spent in prayer and meditation; it generally is something that one will regularly desire so we are reminded of the sacrifice that Christ made). Forty days reminds us of the 40 days of Jesus fasting in the desert. One of the best “fasts” I ever observed was the year I abstained from Mexican food. I was frequently reminded of the sacrifice (almost daily cravings)! Sundays are traditionally not days of fast because on every Sunday we commemorate Christ’s resurrection. Wish I had known that at the time I gave up chips and salsa!

We call it Ash Wednesday because of the practice of wearing ashes in some way following a worship experience we have that day. The ashes traditionally come from the Palm branches used the previous year on Palm Sunday. That is, those that are retrieved from sword fights the children enjoy in the foyer after the service. These ashes are used as part of the tradition. Some understand this as a strictly Roman Catholic tradition but it is not. Many church traditions have observed this ritual for centuries.

But, why ashes? Because many times in the Bible, we see someone placing them on themselves as a sign of grief. Often accompanied by the wearing of sackcloth. So, in our tradition today, we receive ashes as a sign of grief for our sins, grief for any pain inflicted on our Christ, grief for our need (due to lack of faithfulness) to recommit ourselves to our Christ anew. Here’s where it still gets tricky for this non-cushioned-pew Baptist gal. I’m good up until the ashes are put on me. I observe Lent. I fast. I live for Holy Week. I always get emotional when I see the children come in waving the palm branches. I come to the evening services that week. I live for Easter! But the ashes are really uncomfortable for me.

Traditionally, ashes are used to make a small cross on one’s forehead.  We also allow people to have a cross of ashes made on one’s hand. In my tradition this is done by a minister. I usually participate and when I do I always receive them on my hand.

Here’s what I’ve come to understand….it’s a ritual and it only has meaning for me if it has the right meaning for me. I don’t have to stay away to avoid it just because I’m uncomfortable. I don’t have to let a little bit of ashes rob me of all the other meaningful ways I commemorate my Christ’s resurrection and my being an Easter people. There are some things that we cannot pick and choose about being a disciple of Jesus but my experiences of mercy and grace have convinced me that he doesn’t care where or if I get ashes as long as I get Easter. And, thanks be to God, I get Easter. I would offer the same to you if you are wondering “why ashes?”


Constance (Connie) McNeill
Second Baptist Church
Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Equipping

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Posted by Terri Soper at Tuesday, February 17, 2015
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Forming Together Matters

Bo Prosser, CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships

From our beginning, this wonderful Fellowship has been forming together! We took a couple of tries to form our name; this happened in community. We’ve taken several steps toward being on mission together. We’ve been a “new way of being Baptist” together. We’ve been formed by those around us being the presence of Christ to us. We are the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — our very name reminds us that, while autonomous, we also are community, bound together in Christ.

For the past 15 years, we’ve made spiritual formation a priority. We’ve put a significant emphasis on Christian formation, emphasized prayer and prayer practices and woven spiritual disciplines into every aspect of our work. One of the three main foundational aspects of Dawnings, CBF’s congregational renewal initiative, is “formation.” None of this is by accident and none of this occurs in isolation. We cannot “poof” ourselves into spiritual maturity. The definition of spiritual formation that our Spiritual Formation Task Force developed several years ago reminds us: “Spiritual formation is the process of formation in the image of Christ, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit in community, for the transformation of the world.”

This definition emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit who does the transforming, as well as the work of a communal spirit that reminds us we are not formed in isolation. We open ourselves to receive God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit empowers those around us to engage others. We are formed in the totality of experience with God and with one another.

Consider several words from Scripture:

Genesis 2:18 —“it is not good that man should be alone…”

Isaiah 45:18 — “God formed the earth and made it and established it; not formed in chaos but to be inhabited…”

Matthew 18:20 — “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there…”

Matthew 22:39 — “Love your neighbor as you love yourself…”

Matthew 28:19 — “Teach all nations…”

God’s Spirit is still empowering us to be the presence of Christ in the world. And to what end? That we might all be formed, reformed, perhaps even transformed into a community of beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus followers.

“We are formed together when we practice compassionate, active listening, when we avoid assumption that we know everything already and when we have the gumption to be self-aware,” says Connie Stinson, pastor of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md.

Karen Massey, associate dean and associate professor of Christian education and faith development at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, echoes this view.

“Forming together most importantly happens through shared, common experiences, in face-to-face dialogue, sharing stories, being present in important life passages through which the formative and transformative power of God is felt and accessed by God’s people.”

Kyle Tubbs, a CBF church starter in Williamson County, Texas, recalls the period of forming together that his new congregation experienced. “Forming together took a while and was frustrating. It wasn’t until we were faced with churchwide challenges that we realized how much we needed each other and how interconnected we had become.”

Forming together is the “big idea” in this new chapter in the life of CBF. It is not the only idea. We are still a new way to be Baptist. We are still on mission in a world without borders. We are still finding ways to be the presence of Christ in the world. As my colleague, John Hendrix, so succinctly puts it, “Nothing never happens!” We are forming and being formed together in a multitude of ways to engage the world with the transforming love of Christ.

Terry Maples, field coordinator for Tennessee CBF, reminds us: “This forming together cannot be programmed, and is caught more than taught. Certainly, our formation is not complete until we invest our lives in the lives of others.”

Ray Higgins, coordinator of CBF of Arkansas, adds, “We need to form together: around global missions, new church starts, young leaders, intentional congregational ministries, Peer Learning Groups, chaplains and pastoral counselors, Together for Hope, Baptist Women in Ministry and state and regional organizations.”

Forming together matters. I am not the person I was years ago when I answered the call to the Christian faith and the call to Christian ministry. There are a great cloud of witnesses who have contributed to my formation. They have loved me, cajoled me, held me accountable, cried with me, corrected me, prayed for me and so much more. We have been formed together, as individuals, as churches and as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Consider these words from Jesus, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) As we embrace this new generation as the Fellowship, may we embrace this “new commandment,” perhaps for the very first time, and be formed, reformed, maybe even transformed together!

Bo Prosser is the CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships.

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Posted by Terri Soper at Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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The LOOP Newsletter : FEBRUARY Monthly Edition

Second Baptist Church
Weekly LOOP newsletter for February 1, 2015

New Adult Bible Studies | LENT Preview | Game Night | Disciple Now 2015 | Student Pastor Search | Equipping | SEND Opportunities

Read it Here:

Posted by Kelsey Adams at Saturday, January 31, 2015
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