With the distribution of ashes on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, "from dust you came, and to dust you shall return," a prompt that life is short and to be lived to the fullest. Increasingly, that age-old lesson is taking on new meaning during the season anticipating Easter, a time which is becoming more about morality — less about what Christians give up, and more about what they are doing to be God’s church in the world.
Living into the words of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you," members of a little church in Silver City, N.M., are practicing "4O Days of Kindness" during Lent. Moderator Wendy Spurgeon, who sees her congregation as "an evolving 3.0 church," said it’s about being the hands and feet of Jesus.
"We are working through how do you be the church in action," Spurgeon said. "How do you step out into the community to be the church in the world?" That’s where 40 days of kindness comes in.
It can be a small act, such as opening a door for others, sharing a smile with someone on the street, offering others a ride to church, visiting and praying for those who are ill, or something more. Barbara Rychener created a personal gift for a young mother-to-be. "A year ago, I heard of a local young teen that was about to deliver a baby and had nothing prepared," Rychener said. "The quilt is what I made as one of my acts of kindness."
"We are creating a space where all are welcome, including those who may or may not define themselves as Christian," Spurgeon said. "We have some atheists or agnostics in our community. We are involved as a journey of exploration as a group, to create a space to work together and create a sense of oneness — to be the body of Christ in the world."
The congregation, which started in 2012, is pastored by lay leaders and a part-time minister, and worships in the Silver City Woman’s Club. They distributed ashes at the city’s Visitors Center and at a local park on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, and plan to spend time out in the streets of the community during Lent, being kind to their neighbors.
"This is our third year doing ashes on the street, and I'm not sure exactly when we began the 40 Days of Kindness, but either at that time, or since," said Chaplain Gale Green, a former hospice chaplain who helps minister at Silver City UCC. After reading a couple of books on kindness, Green suggested "that instead of giving up something, we do something to create more kindness in our larger community. We decided to focus instead on 'taking on' the daily practice of Kindness."
Participants have hosted a backyard fire circle and marshmallow roast for neighbors and friends, helped distribute food at the local food bank, and held a fundraiser to support a local organization that assists people who are less fortunate. Others spent one Sunday putting together bags of "necessary" items (socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, water bottle and more) for homeless people they saw about town.
This year, the UCC congregation has extended hundreds of invitations around Silver City to other churches and area businesses, passing out brochures to inspire people to participate. Members hope their actions culminate in a big joyous Easter celebration, with journals of the community’s kind acts offered up to God.
"I've seen some amazingly sweet things happening," said Green. "Very often, kindnesses happen without the person doing them even realizing their act of kindness."
Spurgeon sees her spiritual community as a "small, but mighty, church. We’re coming together and sharing our light, stepping forward into our strengths — everyone is needed to share God’s love in the world — by being Her qualities —radical inclusiveness, less judgmental, more compassion. Being Her light."
"Look at whatever 5 loaves and 2 fishes you have, and give, and give, and keep on giving," said Green. "You don't have to be a large group. We aren't 'great," but we do have a great God, and we want others to know the love we continue to experience."