Sophia Jackson of Clairemont accepted a devotional booklet after receiving ashes from Pastor Jonathan Doolittle at Clairemont Lutheran Church. Photo by Chris Stone

Despite the public’s sacrifices in the pandemic, a Lutheran pastor suggests that addition not subtraction may be the right path for Lenten behavior this year.

“Our Lutheran theology teaches us that it’s not always about sacrifice. It’s about devotion and dedications, so rather than giving something up this year, maybe it is time for us to add something in,” said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Doolittle, senior pastor of Clairemont Lutheran Church/Iglesia Luterana at its “Ashes to Go” event on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Doolittle suggests doing things that bring people closer to God, regularly connect people to their neighbors or find ways to safely help people outside your household.

“The answers for those are different for each of us,” he said, “but if we can seriously think about what we can do to add to the life of our community … we’re adding to our own well-being and our own self-identity as well.”

Lent is the traditional 40 days of prayer, fasting and sacrifice as Christians prepare for Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday, when the faithful have ashes placed on the forehead amid a prayer, is the first day.

The ashes — a symbol of mortality and penance — come from burnt palm fronds of the previous Palm Sunday.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions on indoor services, the Clairemont church used their parking lot to distribute ashes to the community. Many of those stopping by Wednesday afternoon were not members of the church’s congregation.

And several were from other faiths, many former or current Catholics.

“All are welcome,” the pastor said.

Doolittle — who had help distributing ashes from church spokesman Eddie McCoven — said Ash Wednesday is an important foundation for Christian faith and a reminder of what has been done for hundreds of years.

“The pandemic can’t stop that from happening,” said Doolittle, who has been with the Clairemont church since 1998.

Lupe Cure, 52, said: “It’s been a long time since I have gotten the ashes — and given everything that is going on right now with COVID, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

She continued: “The past year has been so rough for everyone and I feel like we are actually coming to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re getting closer. I’m hopeful. This will just give me that added boost to keep going.”

Cure added that the ashes on her forehead will spark a conversation with her family about her faith.

“It’s a win-win,” she said.

Sofia Jackson of Clairemont said her visit was about prayer for the future.

“With the problems that we have had with Trump and a lot of separation, with race, I just think we need the Lord more now than ever before,” Jackson said “The ashes mean I am going to get prayed over today. Perhaps I need this to help me propel forward and pray more often.”

The San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese, out of caution during the pandemic, encouraged priests to sprinkle ashes on people’s heads or use a cotton swap to apply the ashes.

But Doolittle wanted to use a traditional touch.

“We are using our fingers to make the sign of the cross as is the ancient tradition,” the pastor said. “I think it is important that we have that sense of human touch, that we are connected in that way physically.”

He bemoaned the separation that’s “broken people down.”

“Even just the simple touch of a finger on the forehead connects humans to each other and really allows us to celebrate God’s presence in the midst of that touch,” Doolittle said.

During the nearly year-old pandemic, Clairemont Lutheran Church has joined others in providing faith services online.

Congregants haven’t been able to gather indoors, and Doolittle doesn’t have any change in plans for Easter.

“But if we get the blessing of being in the red (tier) zone, we will open us as quickly as possible,” he said.

With 200 families, the church hopes to host about 75 people indoors, a “substantial community together,” he said.

Maybe during the pandemic, he said, Lent is even more important than in the past.
 
“We are called to remember each other, to hold each other in prayer, to pray for the health and safety of the world as we come together as a Christian community,” he said. “This is a time that cries out for renewal and re-devotion of those who are connected to our creator.”

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