By BRENNA GRITEMAN
At first glance, this year’s calendar overlap of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday seems out of place. How might an increasingly commercial holiday, marked by elaborate displays of affection, coexist with the sacred and highly symbolic start to the Christian church’s most holy season?
Keeping in mind, however, that Christianity — especially the story of Easter and the preceding season of Lent — is centered around the concept of love, helps marry the two observances quite nicely, explained the Rev. Brandi Grant-Rigsby, pastor at Ada First United Methodist Church.
(Now, tying in Easter Sunday falling on April Fool’s Day might be a different story, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
On Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, “we are reminded that death is not the end of the story, that God loves us so much that he rewrote the ending,” Rigsby said. “Because of God’s love, because of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s gifts of grace and redemption, death is not the end of our story — love and hope win.”
Therefore, she added, “The love that we know and experience in our relationships with one another, the love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, it is all a byproduct of God’s love. As 1 John 4:19 says, we love because God first loved us.”
The Rev. Scott Woods of St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church said the last time Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day overlapped was back in 1945. He believes that couples coming together to celebrate God’s mercy and love is highly appropriate on a holiday dedicated to the celebration of romantic love, and indeed every day. And although not much is known about him, the day is named after Saint Valentine, after all.
Additionally, Woods said it is important for “couples to nurture their relationship, the romance that God has placed deep within them.”
Some couples may, however, need to put a little extra planning into their Valentine’s Day date this year. The Catholic Church requires believers to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to also abstain from eating meat. First and foremost, that means “no chocolate, just ashes,” Woods quipped. (Even the students at St. Michael’s school will trade their typical Valentine’s Day party for a Fat Tuesday celebration this year.) But, since one large meal is permitted on a day of fast, conscientious couples could, in fact, both eat a small breakfast and lunch and then enjoy a nice fish dinner after the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Valentine’s Day, Woods said.
The Rev. Mark Weatherman, too, understands that many couples like to treat themselves to a nice meal out on Valentine’s Day. That’s why West Independence United Methodist Church of Fostoria will host a love feast on Wednesday, allowing “couples that normally go out to dinner to come have a nice dinner served to them.”
In a throwback to the early days of the church, Weatherman explained the love feast is a communal meal often associated with the Eucharist — a literal breaking of bread. Therefore, churchgoers on Ash Wednesday will be served a free spaghetti dinner complete with salad, bread and dessert, with reflections between courses providing “a little bit different Ash Wednesday service.”
Weatherman hopes the observance will attract singles, too, as “we’re all sweethearts of the church.”
To help make Ash Wednesday more accessible for busy folks, Ada First will host a drive-thru Imposition of Ashes during three separate time slots: 7:30-9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m. Rigsby notes, despite its deeply hallowed roots, Ash Wednesday is “still a regular workday for most people” and the services were scheduled around times that are easiest for most to slip away.
Those attending the drive-thru service will be met under the carport by Rigsby and a handful of volunteers who will deliver a short liturgy on the significance of the ashes, along with the sign of the cross, ashes and a short prayer — “and then we’ll send them on their way.” As a newcomer to the area — Rigsby came to the Ada church in June — with two young children herself, she believes the church must do things in a different way to make services more appealing and accessible to young worshippers, and the drive-thru service is an example of the church’s willingness to change.
St. Michael’s main church will offer Ash Wednesday Masses at 7 and 9 a.m., and at 7 p.m. Downtown services will be at 12:10 and 5:30 p.m., and an 8:30 p.m. Mass is planned at Winebrenner Theological Seminary.