Like a certain motel chain that promises to leave the light on for you, Roman Catholic churches across Tampa Bay will do the same one Wednesday evening in Lent.
The idea is to nudge Catholics to confession during the season of penitence, which begins for most Christians this week on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter on April 12. For Orthodox Christians, the Lenten period begins March 2, culminating with Easter on April 19.
Religious leaders speak of Lent as a time of introspection, renewal and spiritual preparation.
"The whole basic purpose of Lent is to prepare yourself for Easter. You are supposed to be checking yourself out, doing a spiritual X-ray of yourself so that the meaning of Easter becomes more relevant, more personal,'' said the Rev. Wayne A. Robinson of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Petersburg.
With the approach of the solemn season, area congregations have planned special sermons, classes, services and devotions. In Seminole, Faith Presbyterian Church has scheduled a spiritual renewal week for members "to be encouraged, challenged and renewed.''
"We think it is a good time of the year to reflect and look within,'' the Rev. David Miller said.
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd has planned a midweek series on Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Pastor Chip Salzgeber referred to it as a refresher course for adults, covering such topics as the Ten Commandments, holy baptism, confession and the Eucharist.
"I am going to make it not boring,'' he said.
With the start of Lent on Wednesday, some Christians, including Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans, will receive ashes on their foreheads as a mark of penitence. Though some congregations will buy ashes from religious stores, others, like St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown St. Petersburg and Holy Family Catholic Church on the north end of town, will make their own by burning palms from last year's Palm Sunday services.
At St. Peter's, that will take place Tuesday evening, said the Rev. Gigi Conner, canon evangelist for the cathedral. After pancakes and hymns, Conner said, "We'll change the mood from joyful to being thoughtful, and then we'll go outside and burn the palms.''
At Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ the next day, Robinson will offer ashes to anyone who requests them between noon and 7 p.m.
"You have a lot of elderly people who don't drive at night,'' he said of his decision to give ashes for much of the day Wednesday.
While Lent begins on Wednesday, at the multicultural St. Joseph's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhood, preparation began on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and continued with a revival, the Rev. Timothy Sherwood said. As is traditional, the church will hold Stations of the Cross devotions during Lent. At St. Joseph's, they will take place on Wednesdays.
For many Christians, Lent is a time of self-denial. Catholics traditionally avoid meat on Fridays, making fish fries a staple at many parishes on those days. This year, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg is introducing an initiative aimed at getting Catholics back to confession.
Frank Murphy, director of communications for the diocese, said Bishop Robert N. Lynch has asked every church to be open for confessions at the same time on March 18. "The Light Is on for You'' campaign is inspired by a similar program the Archdiocese of Washington began in 2007.
"It's an opportunity for folks to go to confession,'' the Rev. John Tapp of Holy Family Church said.
"It's in addition to what we do every Saturday.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.