Religion News: March 2024

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Rev. Justin McIntosh and Rev. Amanda Kotval offer ashes to passersby in Old Trail on Ash Wednesday. Photo: Lisa Bell.

Community Rituals Mark Lenten Season

A steady stream of pedestrians, coffee drinkers, motorists and students paused across the street from Grit Coffee Shop at the start of their busy days to bow their heads to pray with Revs. Justin McIntosh and Amanda Kotval of St. Paul’s, Ivy Episcopal Church. Then they received a smudge of ashes on their foreheads, signifying the beginning of the long, dark season of Lent.

One of those who stopped still had Mardi Gras beads from the night before. It seems like an odd juxtaposition: first there’s a huge party, then a season of penance. But in order to have Mardi Gras, there has to be an Ash Wednesday. For the faithful, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) solves more than one problem. What do you do with the cream, butter, sugar, meat and wine when the Lenten season arrives, distinguished by penance, fasting, sobriety, prayer and sacrifice? Best to use it all up so nothing tempts you or goes to waste.

The date for Easter varies, but it’s always on a Sunday, so counting back 40 days, the beginning will always be a Wednesday. The 40 days is the ancient prescription for periods of reflection, discipline and sacrifice, a tradition that may predate the Bible. People seeking forgiveness traditionally rubbed their skin with ashes to indicate humility and penitence, so that’s why ashes are used. Although the ritual is often associated with Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal churches, many Protestant churches also offer ashes. This is true in Crozet, where believers of many faiths were offered ashes in church ceremonies, in their cars, or by just walking down a sidewalk in Old Trail.

Churches don’t just clean out the fireplace for the yearly ashes: Usually, they’re from the palm fronds distributed on Palm or Passion Sunday the year before, to commemorate the greeting Jesus received when he rode back into Jerusalem to meet his judgment. People cheered him with palm fronds, as was their tradition. The leaves from Palm Sunday are collected and burned in a special ceremony, their remains reminding Christians that they were created from dust and will return to dust. 

That’s how the season begins, with each church following its own Lenten traditions. On Good Friday, Crozet churches participate in an outdoor stations of the cross, a ritual that observes many of the memorable events in the passion of Jesus. That service is Friday, March 29, beginning at 3 p.m. in downtown Crozet.

For the last several decades, the season ends with a joint sunrise service at Mint Springs Park. In recent years, much of the organizing for the event has fallen to Rev. David Collier of Crozet Baptist Church. “I know it’s been going on for the 42 years I’ve been here, Collier said, “but I think it was going on at least five or ten years before that.” 

He said that sometimes there’s a large showing of Crozet church leadership there: “I’ve never counted fewer than six members of the local clergy there.” Some churches have their own Easter services, he said, or have held an all-night vigil, so don’t participate. There was one exception. At the very start of the pandemic lockdown, Collier headed for the park, fully expecting to be alone with the rising sun, but one of his parishioners joined him to greet the dawn. According to the time of Easter, the service may start in the dark, or begin just as the sun is peeking over the edge of the mountain. 

For a while, planners tried to keep up with the exact moment of sunrise, as it varies from year to year, but the time has been fixed at 6:30 a.m. for a while. There’s a huge variation in temperature as well. Sometimes it’s mild, and sometimes it seems like the depths of winter. “I remember one year where my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t feel my guitar strings,” Collier said. The speakers rotate among the Crozet clergy, and at deadline, the schedule was still being planned.

For many years, the people of Crozet Baptist have welcomed all those who attend, no matter their affiliation, to join them for breakfast at the church after the ceremony. Collier is not reluctant to publicize their hospitality. “Somehow, there’s always enough,” he said. 

The 2024 Easter sunrise service is on March 31 at 6:30 a.m. at Mint Springs Park in Crozet. Breakfast follows at Crozet Baptist Church.

Crozet Community Shelters Homeless Women

More than a dozen homeless women spent two weeks in January experiencing the hospitality of the Crozet faith community during winter’s coldest days. Although their nighttime home was set up in the community room of Tabor Presbyterian Church. Kathleen Anderson of Tabor said the temporary shelter quickly attracted widespread support. “It was not just a Tabor effort,” she said, “but a community effort.” She thanked the churches and individual people who came forward to help with meals, entertainment and other gestures of remarkable grace.

For two weeks in January, homeless women found a warm reception and a comfortable bed at Tabor Presbyterian Church.

Crozet Baptist, Crozet Methodist, and Rockfish Presbyterian Churches all contributed meals and desserts, she said. Tabor’s people did, too, of course, and members also enlisted friends to provide a warm and nourishing meal each evening. The Gresge family of L’Etoile catering provided a meal (butternut squash soup, salad, homemade bread, and chicken, broccoli, and risotto casserole) that the guests gave a ten-star rating. Dwayne Baber of the Piedmont Store in White Hall provided bacon, egg, sausage and cheese breakfast biscuits that the women could grab as they headed out at dawn.

Since women don’t live by biscuits and casseroles alone, hairdresser Elida Beck showed up to provide haircuts for all, and nationally recognized musician Eve Watters played soothing harp music and told stories. Others in the community stuffed gift bags with socks, gloves, reusable drink cups and toiletries.

Crozet children designed bags of personal items for the PACEM women staying at Tabor Presbyterian Church. Submitted photos.

A nonprofit organization called Sock Love, a project started by UVA students, provided warm and pretty socks, gifts Anderson said the women loved. “So many contributed in ways big and small to make this successful, and if I’ve left anyone out, I apologize,” she added. She said the church will offer to host the women again next year.

As always, generosity benefits the giver as well as the receiver. “It showed us that even a little church can make a difference,” Anderson said, “and it strengthened relationships within the faith community. It allowed people in the community who are longing to make a difference in someone’s life to do just that. It feels good to help and care for people; not in a self-righteous way but in a warm, loving, and nonjudgmental way.

Donations Needed for Crozet Cares Closet

The Crozet Cares Closet, located in the Scott House on the grounds of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, is open the first Saturday of every month from 9 to 11 a.m. In advance of the next opening date of April 6, closet organizers are asking the community to help by donating personal care and household cleaning items, as the stock is depleted every month. Bring supplies to the Scott House Monday, April 1, from 9 to 11 a.m. or at any time to collection points at Denise Ramey Realty in Clover Lawn, the parish hall at Emmanuel, and Crozet Baptist Church on St. George Avenue. Those interested may also order selected products on Amazon by searching for the closet by name. Especially needed this month are shampoo, paper towels, toilet paper, liquid hand soap and dish detergent.

New Pastor for Sherando Church

The church formerly known as the Sherando Methodist Church has a new name, Sherando Church; a new pastor, Love resident Billy Coffey; and will soon have a new sanctuary, rebuilt where the former church burned a few years ago. The community will come together for an Easter sunrise service on the land across from the church at 7 a.m. March 31. The congregation hopes to move into its re-built home at the junction of Routes 610 and 664 this spring.  

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