Darien churches take a different approach to Lent

DARIEN — Amid a pandemic and many of Darien’s churches under new leadership, including St. Luke’s, First Congregational Church and others, Lent is likely to look different this year.

Traditionally, Darien does a communitywide Good Friday cross walk, but it is still unclear whether the three-decade tradition will continue this year.

Last year, the walk was canceled due to COVID-19 for the first time in 30 years. Current and past church leaders reflected on the tradition’s origins and importance. It was later changed into a Cross Walk For Peace over the summer as a result of nationwide racial unrest.

St. Luke’s also is offering weekly outdoor services during Lent, culminating in Easter on Sunday, April 4.

St. Thomas More is offering a variety of online and in-person services throughout Lent, including the stations of the cross every Friday at 7 p.m. and an online reading of the Passion of Christ on April 2. Registration for in-person Easter week services opens on March 29.

St. John Darien is offering expanded reconciliation services and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Meanwhile, Lent and Easter in a box is being offered by Noroton Presbyterian Church, offering families an at-home kit to honor and celebrate the season. Adult online resources are provided.

Church leaders also recently adapted to changes during Ash Wednesday. Though ,in the past, St. Luke’s would offer “ashes on the go” to commuters, this year, there was no need given the minimal commuters.

Instead, outdoor services were offered.

Along with engaging in the traditions of their spiritual practice, it was also an opportunity to reconnect with friends and community when St. Luke’s parish hosted several in-person outdoor Ash Wednesday services.

“We’ve had really good turnout today,” said Associate Rector Derek Stefanovsky, with around 25 people attending a 9 a.m. morning service and about 50 showing up for the noon service, centering around a glowing fire pit for warmth.

Close to 30 came for the 4 p.m. service, while later in the evening the church held a virtual one, as well for those at home.

“I think people have really missed being together this year, obviously,” Stefanovsky said.

“Thankfully the weather was pretty good today, but really we have not gathered physically since Christmas, as a parish,” he said, which was also an outdoor service.

“Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent,” he explained, with the symbolical service including an anointing of ash on the foreheads of parishioners.

Stefanovsky cited the three most noteworthy aspects of the day.

“One, our need to turn from sins toward God,” he said. “Two, our fragility as human beings, which is a very poignant thing this year, and; three, which I think is the most important thing we remember today, which is God’s mercy. God’s mercy is infinite.”

“It’s been hard for the community to be apart,” noted the Rev. Ryan Fleenor. “It’s a gift to be able to be together, even under these extraordinary circumstances.”

Consequently, he said, the Yankee spirit has been reflected in ability for parishioners to endure the cold in order to be together.

“People are hardy — hardy New Englanders,” he said, “willing to be outside in the cold to worship and be together.”

“It’s cool,” said 9-year-old Margaret Ward, of Darien, who came out with her mother and sisters to attend the 4 p.m. service. “I like how there’s the chairs set up, so that we don’t have to bring our own, and we can still worship God in the pandemic.”