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Hallo again to all.

We are, as you well know, in the midst of Lent. There's no giant billboard announcing it, but in church, we have been enjoying different liturgies, different music, and different colours. Parishes around the world are organising soup suppers, Lenten study groups, special charity fundraisers, and other activities that are appropriate for this season but couldn't be maintained year-round.

Most of the people we see and interact with every day are unchurched. They know very little about Christianity and even less about Anglicanism. Today's Eucharist felt afterwards almost as if it had been a secret society. Maybe just a secret society per literature and legend, since we've never been a member of a real one to be able to make a true comparison. Leaving church after the coffee hour to go where the afternoon took us, we found ourselves to be indistinguishable from all of those around us who had just left golf games or football matches or building-supply stores. No one pointed and whispered 'There goes that crazy Christian.' Perhaps other people we see at the greengrocer have also been to church, but usually we can't tell by looking at them.

Rap musicians, pole dancers, stage magicians, and young men on the prowl in pubs often wear a pectoral cross; not long ago we saw a man in line in the pharmacy wearing three of them. The visual cues have been pre-empted. There is so much tension between Anglican traditions and modern life that it has become difficult to follow traditions without being thought a nutcase. Not just the traditions of Lent: in the country from which some of our forbears were immigrants, one put up Christmas trees on 24th December and took them down on 6th January. Nearly every Christmas tree sales lot in our county closed down before III Advent. So either we walk sadly away from a once-proud tradition, or work extra-hard to follow a tradition despite the ambient culture. If we lived somewhere that was cold in December, we could buy a Christmas tree in early December, plant its trunk in a big bucket of water, and hide it away until the appointed date. We could buy an artificial tree and take it out of the closet on 24th December. Or we could surrender and buy Christmas trees when all of our neighbours do, and take it down when they do.

There are no Lent trees or Lent-o-lanterns or boxes of Lent chocolates or Lent bunnies or roasted Lenten geese. There are no classic feast traditions for Lent; if you look up 'Lenten food' or 'Lent recipes' you will probably not recognise anything that you find as being Lenten. Lent is inside you, not on the table in front of you.

But on Ash Wednesday, we had the privilege of looking like a member of a liturgical Christian church. For one day per year, we can look different without arousing suspicion. We spent the afternoon and evening proudly sporting the cross of ashes and chrism that the priest imposed on our forehead. In past years our parish had a noon service, a Eucharist with imposition of ashes. This year the clergy were out on the streets of our town at that time, offering 'ashes to go' to anyone interested. Most people crossed the street to avoid having to face the question of whether they wanted ashes, but some did. Returning to our place of employment, we went out of our way to have face-to-face encounters with as many co-workers as possible. And every year one or two of them whisper 'You have some dirt on your forehead.'

Ashes help us evangelise. Ash Wednesday is the best day of the year to wear a visible mark stating 'I am a Christian' without swarms of co-workers and neighbours thinking us imbalanced. We don't think we have ever managed to convince anyone to join our church as a consequence of those ashes, but we have definitely made them stop and think.

There it is: not Lent trees or Lent-o-lanterns but Lenten thoughts.

See you next week. When it will still be Lent.

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25 February 2018

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