Three weeks ago I found myself again burning dried palm fronds in anticipation of Ash Wednesday. While there are many preparations that a minister may do alone, setting piles of dried leaves ablaze does not seem to be one of them. Each year I have had parishioners—and this year my own children—absolutely fascinated with reducing a mountain of spiky leaves to a handful of dust in a fiery inferno.
During Lent it is customary to give something up and make room for something better in your life. As I watched my children slowly feed the fire, I couldn’t help but think how this is like making room for Easter. Churches usually save their palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday to make ashes for Ash Wednesday eleven months later. Each year we make room for the next years’ palms and all of the new life that springs forth with the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
This Lent we are launching a lot of new things: an Ash Wednesday service, a Bible Study series, a Homework Club, and a new Stewardship Campaign. I have watched over the past several months as people in the church have looked closely at resources, examined old habits, and looked carefully at all aspects of church life to see what needed to be discarded in order to make room for new ministries, new members, and new traditions. Months later, much like the long, lush tendrils of the green palms, new things are springing forth at FCC San Rafael.
In the end, Faye and Rosemary did all the work. In their enthusiasm they clipped the enormous pile of fronds into manageable barbeque-sized pieces, lit the matches, tended the fire, sifted the ashes, and Faye single-handedly mixed the ashes with oil and prepared them in the small dish I used during the worship services on Ash Wednesday. It reminded me that in the end a growing church is often about discipleship — inviting newcomers and the next generation to learn about our traditions, and then making room for new people and new traditions. It has always been so from generation to generation.
It is my prayer that we will continue to make room as individuals and as a church for new opportunities and new faces at the table.