‘What we do is essential to life’

Published 6:50 am Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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Last year, churches and people of faith had just a portion of Lent to celebrate when COVID-19 brought everything to a halt, including closing churches in the face of a growing pandemic.

However, as the Lenten season gets underway, starting with Ash Wednesday, churches are enjoying something of a return to normal if not a complete return to normal.

It’s leading to a growing sense of positivity for both church-goers and church leaders.

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“That’s been really important, especially getting to be in-person and have that community,” said Pastor Brittany Wundermachen, pastor of youth and family ministries for Westminster Presbyterian Church. “That community and seeing others and having a feeling of being together is vital to church.”

Churches in Austin are planning on having in-person Lenten services, but in what’s becoming predictable at this point, things will likely look different in churches, including St. Augustine’s and St. Edward’s Catholic Churches.

Father James Steffes said that while there is every intention of holding traditional services throughout the duration of Lent, the two Catholic churches will see limitations in how they are carried out. Traditionally, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church will hold three Ash Wednesday masses, held in a church that is fortunate to have room for social distancing, but in some cases in the day, the church is requiring sign-ups as well as a seating chart to ensure safety.

“We can accommodate people pretty comfortably — 125 or so,” Steffes said.

Steffes also said there are plans for him to visit those who are shut-in because of the pandemic to assure they have the opportunity to worship during such an important time.

“What we do is essential to life,” Steffes said. “Certainly, not just their spiritual life, but being able to come to church is the spiritual home for so many people. Personal and psychological comfort is so important these days.”

Services will look different for Westminster as well. During Ash Wednesday services, the church will use Q-tips to apply ashes rather than fingers and food that is generally served will not be served this year.

Services will not only be held for churchgoers throughout Lent, but breakout groups will be held for adults as well as teens and youth after services.

These movers have been a continuation of altering to adapt to the times.

“We’re just going forward, knowing and planning with the best intentions, knowing at the last minute something could occur and disrupt those plans,” Wundermachen said. “We’re planning the best we can these last few months.”

None of these changes, however, take away how important this time of year is for people of faith. It allows them to take something positive from a negative situation.

“Lent is leading up to Easter,” Wundermachen said. “We’re preparing our hearts for a time of reflection and repentance. It’s a reminder of our need for God.”

“Having these services helps calm ourselves in a time that’s still such a time of unknowns,” she continued. “It helps calm our souls.”