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GRAPHIC: Explaining Lent

Area residents, churches celebrate Lent by giving or giving up

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Today marks the start of Lent, a season some Christians observe by giving things up or giving more to charity.

The practice of giving something up has its roots in the early Christian tradition of fasting during Lent.

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"It was a way of denial, preparing the soul," said Roy Hammerling, a religion professor at Concordia College in Moorhead. "The modern person that says I'm going to deny myself something like sweets -- there's a hint of that going back to the early traditions."

Popular things to give up include alcohol, caffeine, junk food or even Facebook. Abstaining can be devotional. But for others, Lent simply provides an opportunity, in a way, to restart stalled New Year's resolutions to eat better, lose weight or be kinder.

Casey Anderson, an employee at Amazing Grains, plans to give up PlayStation.

"It's unproductive and very distracting. This way I can spend more time, I don't know, exercising," he said.

Lutherans focus on food, love

Sharon Lutheran Church invites its members to save money for charity during Lent. The church is providing its members with weekly themes for saving, include giving up coffee drinks and fast food, skipping vending machine and convenience store snacks and substituting a simple meal of potatoes for family dinner -- then giving the money saved to charities which fight hunger, such as Feed My Starving Children.

"The most challenging for me would be to skip going out to eat," said Cheryl Nyhlen, a church volunteer who usually eats out once a week with her family.

At Calvary Lutheran Church, the Lenten message will focus on love, Pastor Troy Troftgruben said.

"We don't encourage or discourage giving things up, (but) our message focuses on picking up or adding, this year, love to our repertoire of our daily living," Troftgruben said.

This year, Calvary's Lenten theme is "Love Out Loud," encouraging its 3,000 members to think about selfless acts.

"You hear the word 'love' in food and beer commercials -- 'I'm loving it.' It's a frequently used word," Troftgruben said. "That's fine, but it takes away from the force of what love can mean. We're revisiting what it can mean when God calls us to love each other in a way that is real."

Calvary holds two Wednesday night worship services, in which youth help serve Communion, serve meals and act in skits.

"Traditionally, as someone once told me, '(Lent is) a depressing somber time," Troftgruben said. "But at Calvary it's one of the highlights of the year, largely because we have a lot of young people involved."

'More subdued'

Father Gerard Braun is the priest at St. Michael's Parish, a church of about 1,650 households. He explained Lent as "a time of trying to renew one's relationship with Christ ... through prayer, through fasting, almsgiving -- which is charity -- doing all of those things that God call us to throughout our lives, but we get caught up so easily in the day-to-day challenges of living, so that sometimes, our relationship with God takes a backseat."

During Lent, Catholics typically do not eat meat on Fridays. Catholic churches also traditionally do not perform weddings during Lent, Braun said, because it's a 40-day period of "being subdued."

"We try to do less of the partying, if you will, the celebrative types of things," he said.

Locals observe

The Herald asked area residents how they observe Lent. Here's a few of their responses:

- Mary Krese, who works at the Grand Forks Senior Center, is a member of the St. Mary Parish.

"Today is our last day of meat," she said. "Tomorrow we'll have something -- no chicken, probably something cheesy."

Krese will not eat meat on Fridays and plans to give up drinking Coke and eating chocolate. Her five children don't give anything up, she said, though her son-in-law does.

- "For Lent, I intend to say only kind things to my husband. (Perhaps it will be awfully quiet at our house!)" wrote Julie Hjelle of Lincoln, N.D. in an e-mail. "I hope to learn better habits and whine less."

- "I try to be a better person and with that goes, helping a friend or stranger in need, voluntering or offering to do something for someone. I also say special prayers for those in need," wrote Debbie Tuba of East Grand Forks in an e-mail.

- Miriam Wood, a recent UND graduate, observes the Catholic tradition of not eating red meat on Fridays. She doesn't give up anything for the season, though her relatives do.

"My grandmother gives up cursing for 40 days," Wood said.

- Mary Forney of Thief River Falls sees Lent as a time to give, rather than to give up.

"I don't necessarily give anything up," she said. "It's just a very special time in the church year. ... It's a time to give of your finances, your time, your talent."

Gulya covers education. Reach her at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send e-mail to lgulya@gfherald.com.

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