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Bishop Martin Seeley suggests people should do more for Lent

It’s Lent. What do we give up, when it seems like we have all given up so much this past year, and anything we might usually think of giving up is, well, frankly, quite helpful right now?

What do you give up in the middle of a pandemic?

And we are anyway aware that our motives and means of giving up something for Lent may be mixed and compromised.

Bishop Martin Seeley
Bishop Martin Seeley

Weight loss may be a worthy aim, but it doesn’t necessarily get us closer to God.

And St Augustine, the early fifth century bishop of Hippo in north Africa, and an important Christian writer, reflected that some give up wine, or meat, but substitute them with something far more indulgent.

“In this way,” he wrote, “the observance of Lent becomes, not the curbing of old passions, but an opportunity for new pleasures.”

Someone I know gave up wine one Lent – except Champagne, demonstrating Augustine’s point.

The Sunday before Lent, February 14th, so also Valentine’s Day, I took part in a Zoom service with a local church in Ipswich.

I’ve appreciated the incredible creativity and ingenuity of clergy and lay people in putting together church services online.

I’ve found the use of Zoom really helpful in keeping people in touch with one another, and being able to break into small groups of three or four means we are having conversations that we might not normally have.

This Lent should perhaps not be all about giving up luxuries
This Lent should perhaps not be all about giving up luxuries

Conversations about faith and what people’s particular concerns are, rather than just a passing hello.

So that Sunday I was preaching about the connection between Valentine’s Day and Lent – that they were both about love, Lent being the journey we take to Good Friday and Easter, the ultimate expression of God’s love.

I asked the congregation to think about what they would do in Lent to show and share that love.

We broke into small groups and in the one I was put in there was a wonderful conversation about this.

The four people I was with all said that this year it should not be about giving things up.

Instead, this Lent should be a time of helping others, when there were so many people suffering from the burdens of the pandemic, through illness, loneliness and practical need, we should make an extra effort to reach out and help, to make a real difference.

Doing something extra, not stopping something.

We have all been through an extraordinary and challenging time, and it is far from over.

For some people it has been very challenging, very sad, and very stressful.

So an extra phone call, or offering to shop, or helping sort out a practical problem someone has – all of these can make a huge difference.

I have been struck by how just picking up the phone to someone can make such a difference to them – and it needn’t be that long, but it will be one way of letting someone feel supported and cared about.

So maybe this Lent we keep eating chocolate, and having that glass of wine (without replacing it with Champagne!) but we make a point of phoning someone who might welcome a call each day – or even just a couple of times a week.

I’m sure that’s one way of sharing God’s love that will definitely bring us closer to God.

- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic

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