The Lenten season is a time in the Christian calendar for people to connect, study, discuss, and worship. For 40 days, it will be a time for those things and more as the United Church of Christ's geographically dispersed community of faith, Extravagance UCC, begins gathering this week in a new way of defining church in the 21st century.
Extravagance UCC, an online spiritual community that was announced in early July during General Synod 2013, has a busy Lenten calendar of activities for members of the denomination seeking a community of faith that isn't limited by location.
"Lent is always a good time to invite people for spiritual growth and reflection," said the Rev. Jo Hudson, gathering pastor of Extravagance UCC. "It's a good time for discovery, so it was a fit for us with our timing."
Extravagance UCC is offering opportunities, Hudson said, to gather virtually and connect online through its Facebook page and Zoom.us, an online meeting and video-conferencing website. "For special days in the calendar, like Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, we're working to establish some partnerships around country to provide Livestreams of worship services for people who don't have that where they are," Hudson added.
There was a buzz in November when Hudson met with about 50 people at the UCC national offices in Cleveland to lay the foundation and identify Extravagance's mission, covenant and community. Since then, Hudson has worked with about 40 people and collected ideas for the upcoming "soft launch." She's is thrilled to see Extravagance take shape and is eager to learn what the feedback will be after the Lenten services.
"It's an experiment with Extravagance as we try things to see how people respond, and we'll learn what people like and how to do it," she said. "We've been conversing and in development in seeing what we can do, and now we can step out and see what people gravitate toward. It's a discovery time now."
On Ash Wednesday (March 5), Extravagance UCC will partner with the Amistad Chapel at the UCC national offices for worship services to begin the Lenten season. From there, regular services take place four times each week starting March 11.
"We've got things every other day," Hudson said. "When we get to Good Friday (April 18) we'll do a virtual station with the cross. On Holy Saturday (April 19) we're hosting a 12-hour Easter Vigil in which we hope people will join from one side of the country to the other with prayers, songs and art that reflect on the resurrection."
The Extravagance UCC Lenten schedule includes other events on a weekly basis:
- Tuesday mornings: A lectionary reflection from the Amistad Chapel Facebook page, posted at 10 a.m. EST.
- Tuesday evnings: A pastor's gathering at 9 p.m. EST on Zoom.us for discussion and face-to-face interaction.
- Thursdays: Inviting people to a 9 p.m. EST Facebook retreat on the theme 'Listening During Lent' as people share their location, with posted prayers that guide congregants on a spiritual discipline.
- Sundays: A Zoom.us virtual gathering on 'Listening During Lent' at 9 p.m. EST.
"It's very exciting. It's like every day there's something new," Hudson said. "A little piece will fall into place to let us do the next thing. Every day there's a new connection."