Every year, the church reminds us to observe an intentional season of introspection during the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday follows Fat Tuesday and launches this season, urging Christians to engage self-regulation. It invites personal responsibility to partner and dance with corporate responsibility.
Without this bridge in society, we become all too easily a community that depends solely on entitlements where every problem becomes someone else's responsibility. This attitude has most consequence in the area of taking care of the needs of our neighbors locally and globally, especially in these difficult economic times. We are invited to be bridge builders who identify social problems and find ways to address them. I like to think of this as prophetic action that goes beyond demonstration. Lent can be a season of action-reflection.
Ash Wednesday signals this drive to be a part of the solution not just by giving up chocolate and other goodies, but by getting involved in giving our time, talent and resources to alleviate the pain of someone else. Since bridge building is challenging work that involves managing tension, it is important that we approach it with a mindset that goes beyond quick fixes. A failing school system is closely related to a failing family system. Pernicious problems such as poverty, poor education and related manifestations, such as hunger and homelessness, need more than institutional solutions. Such problems need long term solutions that require thoughtful engagement that goes beyond blaming the system. Therefore, we could liken Ash Wednesday to a practice run for us to sample what it means to be relevantly involved in a hurting and changing world.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, which is made up of about 50 congregations, every congregation is involved in more than one mission to their local or global neighbors. The inner city and suburbs have opportunities that bridge the needs of hunger for food and dignity through A Meal and More, daily to weekly/monthly suppers, food cupboards, community gardens and more. Many parishioners are involved as mentors at inner city schools. Right on School, the Lake Delaware Boys Camp, and Kids Club are initiatives that address gaps by providing inner city children and parents the necessary help over the school breaks so that they can thrive at their grade level. We are currently in the process of discerning opening an Episcopal School in the city. The Episcopal Senior Life Communities has been a witness in Rochester for more than 140 years and currently has four locations offering initiatives to inspire seniors every day through our volunteering parishioners. Our urban and suburban parishes reach out through the Rochester Area Hospitality Network and Habitat for Humanity to bridge a gap in the lives of those who experience homelessness. Prison ministry including re-entry and after care, Episcopal Relief & Development, and the Millennium Development Goals are engaged across our Diocese.
In a college town outside Rochester, one of our churches has an Academy of Arts bridging a significant gap in the lives of children who otherwise would go without the gift of music and the arts. Neighbors Night in this church brings over fifty young children every week for a time of joy, a hot meal and more. Rays of Hope, in the same town, offers a safe place for single mothers to find meaningful support to navigate the waters of raising a family in these tough economic times. In our rural parishes, we are building humane bridges through a transitional home for veteran women, Rural Migrant Ministries, housing medical students during their rural residencies, food cupboards, clothing cupboards, community gardens and hospitality with local Amish communities, and more. One set of parishes are committed to digging a well in Kongogo, Tanzania to provide potable water.
All these ministries are about finding creative ways to repair and bridge the gaps that exist in our shared humanity through involvement. Ash Wednesday launches one of the holy seasons of the church year, calling us to reach out and help our neighbor right now. Join us this Lent in the practice of taking kindness to the streets. It will be fulfilling and may even spill over into the other seasons of life.
Bishop Prince Singh is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester (NY). He plans to participate in community outreach for a fulfilling and meaningful Lenten season.