A Lent That Will Linger

April 4, 2023

By: Melissa Reed, Cashiers UMC

As a life-long believer, I have “done” Lent many ways. There have been years when I've felt deeply observant and years when I seemed to speed through it with a pat on the back for refusing chocolate for a whole 40 days.

This Lenten Season, however, has touched me in a deeply personal way, the result, perhaps, of various things converging in the life of our church.

After weathering the unexpected transition of several pastors in a short time, not to mention the pitfalls of the Covid years, our congregation agreed to undertake a “Transformational Journey” to determine how God would have us move to fulfill His intents for us. A small group of us committed to devote considerable time to personal practice and prayer in an attempt to discern His voice.

Now, consider our setting: Cashiers, North Carolina is the part-time home to people who come in the summer to absorb our mountains' natural beauty, to pursue outdoor sports and to create rich family memories. For the most part, the town empties by Halloween, as the leaves fall from the trees to reveal the “other” Cashiers. There is a rhythm to life here in the mountains, and the slow season provides lots of time for reflection.

As a full-timer, I am sorely aware of the number of school children who depend upon the breakfast provided each day in their homerooms; of the hidden camps pitched among the trees during the cold winter, the many people who cannot afford (or find) medical care to ward off the ravages of chronic disease like diabetes. I have heard our community battles an influx of drugs, a rumor that became real when a local businessman explained to a group at our church that his biggest challenge in maintaining employee levels was addiction, plain and simple.

So, when our Pastor Aryn launched a Lenten journey devoted to walking a mile in someone else's shoes, I was ready to lace up my sneakers. She provided a media list of pertinent books, movies and scripture to follow.

The bibliography ranged from American Dirt, which traces a mother and child's

escape from a deadly home in Central American to the often hostile immigration system here in the U.S., to the thought-provoking film “Just Mercy” about a man wrongly convicted. The book of Ephesians was on the list, reminding us that our Church is a body of many and that we should strap on the armor of God each day.

To support our reading, we were encouraged to come for “Coffee and Conversation” prior to Sunday services, and to Monday afternoon movie screenings (complete with popcorn!) These experiences of community definitely enriched all who participated.

The highlight of this entire Lenten process was a Poverty Simulation held at the church one recent Sunday afternoon. The program specifically addressed rural poverty which carries with it a unique set of roadblocks. It was led very effectively by Dawn Martin, from Hinton Rural Life.

More than 30 people participated as we claimed our imaginary family status and budget and tried to move about the layers of bureaucracy necessary to get assistance. My partner and I were grandparents who were raising two grandchildren on a combined monthly income of less than $2,000. When (and if) we paid all of our monthly bills we had $9 left to take care of food and other day-to-day essentials. And, so, we made the rounds for food stamps and transportation vouchers and squeaked out half a rent payment. We experienced the frustration, confusion and discouragement that those with little feel every day. And this was just a game!

As I approach the glorious Easter observance, I, for one, feel newly awakened. I am hearing anew Jesus' admonition to “do unto others and “love your neighbor”, as I sense precisely for who and to whom He is speaking.

It has been said that the greatest needs are often right in front of our noses. Like a great novel, this Lenten journey has forced me to “look again”, and having looked again, I cannot look away.

---Melissa Reed
Cashiers United Methodist Church

Personal Reflections