By Yadira Betances
---- — When Christians go to church on Wednesday, ministers will makes a sign of the cross on their foreheads with ashes, while saying the words, “We are dust and to dust we shall return.”
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of penitence for Christians leading up to Easter on March 31.
The ashes are created by burning the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services. Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem when he was welcomed by waving palms. Burning the palms for ashes remind Christians of the joy of Jesus’ coming and the sadness of his death on Good Friday.
Using ashes is a tradition that comes from the Old Testament when the bereaved placed ashes on their heads to mark a tragedy.
Before embarking on the penitential period, several local churches usher in Lent with Mardis Gras events.
For the Rev. Jane Bearden, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Haverhill, Mardis Gras is one of her favorite times of the year because of the green, purple and gold.
Despite the merriment that comes with the holiday, the Louisiana native said Mardi Gras is rooted in the Christian liturgical year.
Tomorrow, members of the Youth Group at Trinity, 26 White St., serve a pancake supper and decorate the hall for the Mardi Gras festivities on Tuesday at 6 p.m., featuring gumbo and King’s cake.
Christ Church parishioners will be serving pancakes, bacon, sausage, and breakfast items on Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The event also includes the 63rd annual pancake toss and the burning of last year’s palms.
Also in Andover, the Women’s Group at Faith Lutheran Church, 360 S. Main St., hosts a tea tomorrow 3:30-5 p.m. A devotional time follows. Actor Frank Runyeon will be at St. Augustine Church, 34 Essex St., Andover on Tuesday to performs a one man portrayal of “Sermon on the Mount” at 7 p.m. At St. Robert Bellarmine Church, 198 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover, hosts a Mardi Gras Mass at 5:30 p.m. Supper follows.
At First Church Congregational, 26 Pleasant St., Methuen, high school students will be flipping pancake tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. Participants will create a mural of memories and a stained glass window of prayers for the church. There will also be a discussion about the church’s history. Donations will be accepted to the youth mission trips.
During Lent, area churches offer bible studies, prayer services, mission, retreats, drama and musical concerts to help parishioners enhance their Lenten journey.
Communities Together will host its annual Lenten ecumenical service at noon Wednesdays in Lawrence, Andover, North Andover and Methuen. A collection will be taken at each service to supports Community Together’s chaplain ministries in area hospitals and nursing homes. During the services, there will be a Diaper Drive for Communities Together which will distribute them to social service agencies in the area.
Bishop M. Thomas Shaw has asked churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to read, “The Rich and the Rest of Us” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. The Diocesan offices have published a study guide we will use in all the churches.
Episcopal Churches in the lower Merrimack Valley host an evening featuring soup and bread and a Lenten themed program. It starts Feb. 20 at Trinity Episcopal, Haverhill; St. Paul, North Andover; St. James, Amesbury; St. James, Groveland and March 20, St. Paul, Newburyport.
Here is a schedule of Lenten services:
Ballard Vale United, 23 Clark Road, Andover: The series “Immigration and the Bible: A Guide for Radical Welcome,” Sundays 9 a.m. beginning Feb. 17.
Christ Church, 25 Central St., Andover: Carol Doran performs an organ recital Feb. 17 at 4:30 p.m., follow by a choral evensong sung by the parish choir at 5 p.m. The Rev. Phillbert Kalisa of REACH Rwanda is guest preacher. Lenten lectionary based bible study Sundays 9 to 9:45 beginning Feb. 17 through Palm Sunday. “Stepping into Wilderness” is the theme of the Lenten Quiet Day Feb. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon. featuring meditations, fellowship, silence and noonday prayer, with time to read, pray, sit or meet with the clergy. Members discuss “The Rich and the Rest of Us” Tuesdays in Lent at 6:30 p.m. beginning Feb. 19.
Faith Lutheran Church, 360 S. Main St., Andover: Midweek worship services will be held from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday February 19 and 26, and March 5, 12 and 19. A soup and sandwich lunch.
First Baptist, 122 Main St., Plaistow: “Love” is the first gift of the spirit to be discussed as part of a series, Feb. 17 after worship.
First Baptist, 253 Lawrence St., Methuen: First Baptist hosts members of neighboring First Church Congregational, for worship and prayer Wednesday at 7 p.m. Anointing with oil or imposition of ashes will be offered.
First Calvary Baptist Church, 586 Massachusetts Ave., North Andover: Ecumenical service, March 13, noon, sponsored by Communities Together.
Forest Street Union Church, 15 Forest St., Methuen: Ecumenical service Feb 20, noon, sponsored by Communities Together.
Lawrence General Hospital, 1 General St., Ecumenical Lenten service, March 6 at noon, sponsored by Communities Together.
Merrimack College, 319 Turnpike St., North Andover: New England Classical Singers perform sacred works by Bach, Vivaldi and Pergolesi, March 3 at 3 p.m. at the Collegiate Church of Christ the Teacher. Tickets are $18 and $20.
Rolling Ridge Conference Center, 660 Great Pond Road, North Andover: Ecumenical service, March 20, noon, sponsored by Communities Together.
Sacred Hearts, South Main Street, Bradford, Lenten series on “Catholicism” runs Thursday 6:30 to 8 p.m. beginning Feb. 14 to March 14.
St. Matthew, 2 Searles Road, Stations of the Cross begins Feb. 15 with “Behold The Away of the Cross, 5:30 p.m. Bartimaeus, the man born blind is the first of six biblical characters who changed due to God’s call discussed during the mission, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m.
St. Michael, 196 Main St., North Andover: The Lenten mission, “Why Catholic: Believe, Profession of Faith” Wednesdays beginning Feb. 27 through April 10.
St. Robert Bellarmine, 198 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover: Amanda Roberts leads a mini retreat on the sacrament of reconciliation with guided reflection and prayer, tomorrow and Monday at 6 p.m.
St. Thomas Aquinas, 26 Crystal Ave., Derry: The reverends Bruce Czapla, Chris Gaffrey and Roger Croteau will be available for reconciliation March 12, 7-8:30 p.m.
Trinitarian Congregational, 72 Elm St., Pastor Rich Knight leads a Lenten Book Club on “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife,” by Dr. Eben Alexander, Wednesdays during Lent at 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. beginning Feb. 20. To order a book or for more information call 978-686-4445 or email email@example.com.
West Parish Church, 129 Reservation Road, Feb 27, noon, sponsored by Communities Together.
Christ Church, 25 Central St., Andover: Women’s Group discusses “Doubting Thomas Moments” Monday, 7:30-9 p.m.
Faith Lutheran, 360 S. Main St., Andover: Pastor Marsha Heydenreich leads a Bible study group on “The Old Testament in Matthew,” Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 am, beginning Feb. 13.
Free Christian, 31 Elm St., Andover: The Alpha Course is held Tuesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. until April 9.
Little Sisters of St. Francis, 8 Barnard Way, Danville: The sisters hold days of prayer for women March 23, April 13, Sept. 28 and Nov. 26; for men on May 18 and Oct. 19 and for married couples on Aug. 24 all from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For reservations, call 603-382-7490 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Queen of Peace of Sts. Joseph and Mary parish, 200 Lawrence St., Salem: Children serve as greeters, ushers, lectors, gift bears during the family Mass tomorrow at 9 a.m.
North Parish, 190 Academy Road, North Andover: Green Sanctuary Film Series presents, “Bag It” Feb. 10, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Discussion follows. Book group discusses “Albert Einstein” by Walter Issacson, Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Our Lady of Good Council, 22 Plymouth St., Methuen: Colleen Braga, Elizabeth Friedrich and Natalie Slabczynski speak about their experience during their recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Feb. 22 at noon. Donations accepted.
Sacred Hearts, South Main Street, Bradford: The parish hosts the city wide youth Mass Feb. 24 at 5 p.m.
St. Augustine chapel, 128 Ames St., Lawrence: Confirmation class hosts holy hour for the sick tomorrow at noon.
St. David Episcopal, Main St., Salem: Course on basic Christianity is held every Sunday in February at 11:30 a.m.
St. Joseph of St. Mary and Joseph Parish, 33 Main St., Salem: The Rev. John Michalowski leads a workshop on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius now through June. Participants will pray 45 to 60 minutes a day over the assigned scripture passages or meditations from Ignatius’ exercises, then write their experience in a journal. The program, “Exploring the Catholic Faith” where participants reflect on the Sunday gospel and discuss it, continues Sundays, 7-8:30 p.m. through Easter.
St. Michael, 196 Main St., North Andover: The Tuesday Bible study group explores the book of Revelation at 7:30 p.m. “Why Catholic?” a faith sharing group begins Feb. 10 and meets for six-week to explore the key tenets of the apostle’s creed with emphasis on the trinity, the incarnation and the paschal mystery.
St. Patrick, 118 S. Broadway, Lawrence: “Life and Faith” adult faith formation series exploring part II of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be held Feb. 21, March 14 and April 11, from 7-8:30, through April.
St. Paul Episcopal, 390 Main St., North Andover: The Women’s Book group reads “The Postmistress” by Sarah Blake, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.
St. Robert Bellarmine, 198 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover: The parish celebrates World Day of Prayer for the Sick with a communal anointing of the sick tomorrow during the 11 a.m. Mass.
Temple Emanuel, 7 Haggetts Pond Road, Andover: Cantor Idan Irelander leads a bar and bat mitzvah class for adults beginning Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. Participants will learn to read Hebrew, the history of music and chant the Torah trope or the musical phrase cantillation applied to sacred text during public readings. The book group discusses “Heatwave and Crazy Birds” by Gabriela Avigor-Rotem, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. led by Rabbi Miriam Phillips.
Temple Emanu-El, 514 Main St., Haverhill: Bible study class on the issues concerning Israel and the Middle East meets today at noon.
Universalist Unitarian, 15 Kenoza Ave., Haverhill: The Book Group discusses “Redfield Farm” a novel by Judith Redline Coopey chronicling a Quaker family’s work on the underground railroad, tomorrow at 9:15 a.m. Rick Baillargeon, who has been married for 25 years, leads a workshop on relationships Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. He has taught prenuptial classes and counseling for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.