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The Lent Calendar and Resources Are Online Here
Lent: A Time for Spiritual Formation
by Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick
Dear CME Family:
“Spiritual formation” is not a phrase I remember from my seminary days (Am I dating myself?). Some 10 years or so after I graduated, I heard persons in seminaries who, in describing their classes, would mention, now and then, “Spiritual Formation.”
For a long time, I thought spiritual formation primarily was about what we do to or for others as we minister to them. Dr. Willa Ross, Christian educator and pastor of Morning Chapel CME Church in Fort Worth, helped me hear that spiritual formation is about my own development and growth into Christ. Perhaps I have not defined it in its fullest, but you get the point: spiritual formation is about our own development, not the development of others.
That point having been made, I move to the subject of this writing: for me, of all the times in the Christian Year that I really recognize spiritual formation happening, the Lenten Season is prime. Before I knew what spiritual formation was, I knew during Lent that something was happening to me and for me and in me as I spent more time in prayerful devotion and sacrifice. It began with “giving up” something; then it “took on” something. For 50 years Lent has been a special time of going through the hymnal and going over the hymns that point to Jesus moving toward Calvary and the sacrifices of Christ on the cross. Going through the journey of the “Passion” hymns in the hymnal during Lent kept me focused – even from the beginnings of my ministry 50 years ago.
However, I must express the greatest gratitude for the church that actually “journeyed” me (if I may make that a verb) into spiritual formation during Lent – Scruggs Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri. You may know it was the church I said I did not want to go to. You may know I was a recalcitrant itinerant preacher who had to learn the Jonah way. But looking back, Scruggs Memorial’s sense of liturgy and spiritual focus and required discipline for observing the Lenten Season grew me deeper in roots that I ever expected. And for that growth, I especially thank the late Rev. Joseph H. Henderson and the late Rev. Robert L. Douglass, two previous pastors.
Rev. Henderson, who pastored Scruggs Memorial from 1959-1970, was a deep preacher who almost never raised his voice. Still, his precise words and pointed phrases could bring one to the climax of spiritual surrender and commitment. He had taught Scruggs Memorial to “go deep” in worship. Rev. Douglass, who pastored Scruggs Memorial from 1970-1978, was a student of liturgy and of forms to strengthen worship. Rev. Henderson’s depths and Rev. Douglass’ structured forms gave me a framework to walk into that achieved in my life that song’s request, “Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord ….”
Of particular note was the fact that Rev. Douglass had left a legacy of a Lenten series of weekly services – just 20 minutes per service (from 12:20 – 12:40), specifically designed for persons who worked in the city and could give their lunch hour to it. And then there was the Good Friday service – no, not a quick service of seven competing preachers, but a worship service which began at noon and closed at 3 PM (focused on our Lord Jesus hanging on the cross for three hours), generally ending with altar call.
When I had walked with Scruggs Memorial through seven weeks of introspective Wednesday noon services and the full three hours of surrender in the Good Friday service, I was ready for the joy of Easter’s hope on Sunday at sunrise!
I dare not think my experience should be duplicated for everyone, nor dare I believe that you have not had experiences just as valid and important to your spiritual formation, but the legacy of what Rev. Henderson and Rev. Douglass and the faithful, loyal members of Scruggs Memorial gave to me during our Lenten Seasons have been, for me, a strong rock of refuge for 45 years!
May this Lenten Season (February 14 through the Saturday before Easter), open you to God’s deeper formation in you! Thank God for the Lenten Season!
The Lent Calendar and Resources Are Online Here
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