29 story ideas for Lent, Easter and Passover

ReligionLink offers 29 fresh angles on Lent, Ash Wednesday, Easter, Orthodox Easter and Passover.

Lent/Holy Week

In a world of violence, how do kids see Jesus' death?

The news, video games, television and movies are chock-full of violence, as are many neighborhoods. Yet so is the story of Jesus’ death. So how does the message of Holy Week play to young minds that, many experts say, have become desensitized to violence?

In 2004 there was a roaring debate over whether Mel Gibson’s powerful and controversial film The Passion of the Christ was suitable viewing for children and teenagers. The film was rated R, but some pastors hauled youth groups by the busload to watch it. Some parents kept their children away, while others welcomed the opportunity to teach their children – some still in grade school – more about Jesus’ death and the sacrifice that Christians believe he made.

How do churches talk to children about Jesus’ suffering in a world in which they are inundated by images of suffering and death? And how do children grasp an important and complex theological message in this story amid the rest of the violence to which they are exposed?

Talk to pastors, Sunday school teachers, parents and seminary professors about what they have seen. Do they think children in today’s media-saturated world respond any differently to the story of Jesus’ suffering and death than children used to? Do they present the message in any different way? What do they say to children about violence in the Bible?

Interview teenagers or young adults about their early impressions of the Easter story. Do they think the violence they encounter on television – both in “entertainment” and on the news – affects how children respond to the Resurrection? Do they think children are becoming less sensitive to depictions of violence? What difference do they think that makes?

Resources

  • “Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children”

    Read a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the impact of violence on children. It states that the average American child watches as much as 28 hours of television a week and that viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization, to a perception that the world is a mean and violent place, and to children becoming more violent themselves later in life.

Judas: Misunderstood guy or Gnostic gnonsense?

The Gospel According to Judas, by Benjamin Iscariot by Jeffrey Archer (St. Martin’s) is a fictional gospel that the British novelist wrote in consultation with the Rev. Francis J. Moloney, a Catholic scholar. Archer is a millionaire best-selling novelist whose career as a rising Tory politician ended when he was convicted of perjury and spent two years in jail. Moloney, now head of the Australian branch of the Salesian order, was dean at Catholic University of America and president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.

Also with views on the disciple who betrayed Jesus are Elaine Pagels and Karen King, scholars who specialize in early Christianity and who have a gift for accessible writing. Read their book, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (Viking, March 2007)

A fragmentary gospel of Judas was unveiled with fanfare in 2006 by the National Geographic Society. The ancient and authentic pieces of papyrus gave rise to a startling theory that Judas was a hero who had betrayed Jesus to authorities at Jesus’ own request to help the Messiah fulfill his destiny. Scholars say that this radically different view of Judas is simply evidence of a wide variety of stories and beliefs during the early years of Christianity. This view, disseminated in two books, a DVD and a television special, piqued the interest of a public primed by The Da Vinci Code, noncanonical alternative gospels and popularization of scholarship about early Christianity, thanks to Pagels and other readable scholars. Archer says his book contains surprises, among them what happened to Judas after the Crucifixion.

Resources

  • Philip Jenkins

    Philip Jenkins is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. He also is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion and serves as co-director for the institute’s Initiative on Historical Studies of Religion. His book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity includes extensive discussion of the global impact of Pentecostalism. He is also author of The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice and Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way.

  • Bart D. Ehrman

    Bart D. Ehrman wrote Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine and teaches religious studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ehrman can place Mary of Nazareth in her historical and modern-day context.

  • Elaine Pagels

    Elaine Pagels is the author of the best-selling Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Random House, 2003) and a professor of religion at Princeton University. She has written a number of well-received books on gnosticism, an early Christian movement considered heretical, and early Christianity. Additionally, she is the author of  The Origin of Satan (1996).

  • Karen L. King

    Karen L. King is the author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Polebridge Press, 2003). A scholar of gnosticism, the body of nonorthodox early Christian teachings, and a professor of ecclesiastical history, she appeared on a Nov. 3, 2003, ABC television special exploring the claims of the novel about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In 2012, King discovered a fragment of papyrus that is said to provide evidence that Jesus referred to having a wife. She denied that the fragment provided direct evidence that Jesus was married. She writes and comments widely on the women of the New Testament and how they are viewed today.

  • “The Judas Gospel”

    See the National Geographic Society website on the gospel of Judas.

  • “Judas Iscariot”

    Read the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Judas.

A 'Passion' for Easter?

Despite being snubbed by the Oscars, the runaway success of The Passion of the Christ upended the conventional wisdom of Hollywood. It may have also had an enduring effect on Easter services across the country. The blockbuster was made by Mel Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, but Protestants, and especially evangelicals, were the movie’s biggest fans. Christian leaders and the filmmakers are urging congregations to use the Passion as a ministry tool, especially this Easter. The success of The Passion coincided with the increasing use of media in church services, but widespread use of the movie for Easter events raised new issues: Didsuch a traditionally Catholic presentation become a modern-day evangelical “Stations of the Cross”? Did it replace or add to the Passion depictions that are increasingly being staged in Broadway-style productions in Protestant churches? Did the movie supplant the old-time Passion Plays that have been a staple of Catholic life?

Resource

• Several homily sites, such as SermonCentral.com, have sermons based on the movie.

Good Friday: a secular holiday, too?

In 2001 the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that said Christmas could be a federal holiday because it had secular as well as religious purposes. But what about Good Friday? It’s observed as a holiday in 12 states, in which state government offices and public schools close for the day. In a handful of other states, only government offices are closed on Good Friday, or the day is an optional holiday.

Church-state separationists and some non-Christians have criticized making a government holiday out of the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross. Legal challenges have been filed to mixed results. The 9th, 6th and 4th U.S. Circuit Courts have upheld laws that make Good Friday a holiday for either schools or state employees, saying that because Easter has become increasingly secularized, the Friday before Easter has become a traditional day to start preparations for days off that benefit people of all religions. However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court ruled that such laws were unconstitutional in closing schools, but not for giving state employees a day off if the government could give a legitimate secular reason for doing so. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the 4th U.S. Circuit Court ruling, allowing the conflicting rulings from the various Circuit Courts to stand.

Is Good Friday a holiday for schools or state employees or both in your state? If not, is there a movement to make it a holiday? Who is involved? What are their motivations? If your state does make the day a holiday, is there opposition? From whom?

Resources

  • “Government Observances of Good Friday & Easter”

    A segment on the website About.com looks at the legal questions surrounding making Good Friday a state holiday.

  • “Religious Holidays Recognized By U.S. Governments”

    Religioustolerance.com offers a snapshot of the court decisions involving Good Friday holidays.

  • “Christmas survives lawyer’s challenge”

    Read a Dec. 21, 2000, Associated Press story posted by the Cincinnati Enquirer about a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that Christmas can continue to be a legal holiday, as it has been since 1870, because it has a secular purpose.

  • Barry Lynn

    Barry Lynn is executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.

  • Melissa Rogers

    Melissa Rogers served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She previously served as director of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs in Winston-Salem, N.C.; as founding executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; and as general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Rogers is an expert on church-state issues and was a leader in the coalition that urged Congress to pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

  • Philip Hamburger

    Philip Hamburger is the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School in New York.  He wrote the book Separation of Church and State (2002).

Mary, mirror of many mothers

Many Christians have a hard time imagining what Jesus’ mother, Mary, endured as he suffered, died and was buried on that first Good Friday. Her stoic acceptance seems almost beyond the humanly possible. But perhaps some modern-day parents – for example, those whose own sons or daughters are in harm’s way in Iraq or Afghanistan – feel a special kinship with her because of it. Talk to some of these parents about how their faith helps them accept and cope with their fears for their child. Does Mary’s example inspire them? Do Catholics, who are known for their devotion to Mary, relate differently to her on this than Protestants do?

Resources

  • Scott Hahn

    Scott Hahn chair of Biblical Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, and the founder and director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. A former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism, his books include Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God (Doubleday, 2001), which examines the Marian doctrines and the importance of Mary in the Christian faith.

  • Cheri Fuller

    Cheri Fuller is a Christian speaker and author whose son, Lt. Chris Fuller, was a Navy doctor who was deployed to Iraq. She encourages people to organize prayer groups in their homes or churches to lift up service members and their families, and she launched a website for military families that provides spiritual and other resources. Contact Cheri via her website.

  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa

    Beverly Roberts Gaventa is Helen H.P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. She wrote Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1999) and co-edited Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).

Hispanics honor solemn traditions

Ethnic groups bring their own traditions to religious holidays in the United States, but as they assimilate into mainstream American culture, the old traditions often fade away. That would also be true of the traditions both Catholic and Protestant Hispanics bring to Easter if new waves of immigrants from Latin America didn’t make sure the old ways continue in their new country. For Hispanics, Semana Santa, or Holy Week, leading up to Pasqua, or Easter, is a solemn event. In fact, the three days before Easter – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – are more central to Hispanic Catholics than Easter Sunday itself. Good Friday in particular is observed as a day of mourning. It includes the Pesame, which is a condolence Mass for Mary; the Stations of the Cross, in which Jesus’ ordeal is re-created; and the Siete Palabras, or the Seven Words, in which Christ’s final words are recited. In many families, music and television are barred on that day.

How do Easter traditions for new Hispanic immigrants differ from those of Hispanics who have been in the United States for generations? How do churches accommodate new immigrant Hispanics’ Easter traditions? How do Hispanic Easter traditions play out in your community?

Resources

  • Timothy Matovina

    Timothy Matovina is an associate professor of theology and executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He is an expert in theology and culture, specializing in U.S. Catholic and U.S. Latino theology and religion.

  • Peter Casarella

    Peter Casarella is a professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago. He wrote the book El Cuerpo de Cristo: The Hispanic Presence in the U.S. Catholic Church (Crossroad Publishing, 1998).

Easter retreats: ancient practices renewed

For many Christians, the Lenten tradition of turning inward is accomplished by retreating from ordinary life in a contemplative or meditative setting. For journalists, it’s a chance to engage people of faith in interviews about how they keep their religious commitments alive within lives overwhelmed by demands and activities. How have past retreats deepened or awakened participants’ faith? Why are they going this year? Check community listings and contact churches to learn about retreats in your area. Many non-Christian religions, including Judaism, schedule retreats to take advantage of spring school breaks, so don’t limit inquiries to Christians. Some retreats are urban and some rural. Some people travel to retreats and others take advantage of a retreat house or gathering place near home or church. Some retreats are silent, others involve community prayer and still others stress the individual’s restoration and relationship with God.

Ask participants how retreats have deepened or awakened participants’ faith. What do people going this year expect to gain? What changes do religious leaders see in people who attend retreats? Scholars can explain the history of contemplative prayer and silent retreats. How do people say they balance retreat and engagement in daily life?

Resources

Here are examples of the variety of approaches to the Easter retreat:

  • Christine Center

    The Christine Center, a retreat center in central Wisconsin honoring traditions of mystical spirituality, meditation and contemplation, hosts a weekend retreat at Easter, including daily spiritual rituals, spiritual guidance, and an Easter service and celebration.

  • Suzanne G. Farnham

    Suzanne G. Farnham is founder of the Baltimore-based Listening Hearts Ministries, which designs and leads retreats for religious organizations and congregations around the country. Farnham is co-author of Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community (Morehouse Publishing, 1991) and she wrote Retreat Designs and Meditation Exercises (Morehouse Publishing, 1994), books widely used by groups of many denominations in religious retreats.

  • JoAnn Heaney-Hunter

    JoAnn Heaney-Hunter is an associate professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y. She is particularly knowledgeable about couples’ retreats and about Christian practice in marriage and families. Ask her about how retreats may relieve stress and strengthen religious practice for individuals in families or marriages.

Virtual spiritual journeys increase

The task of spiritual self-examination during Lent lends itself readily to the Internet, where virtual spiritual journeys aplenty can be found and taken. Spiritual resources there have gone well beyond simple materials to download or podcast sermons. People of faith can subscribe to daily e-devotionals, take retreats, pray, blog, view sacred art and even print out a cover for their credit cards to remind them to think before spending. Lent culminates in Christianity’s most sacred days to commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection, and these too are also online. How are your local congregations, ministries or religious groups using Internet capabilities during the holy season?

Resources

  • “Lenten Resources”

    Catholic publisher Loyola Press in Chicago offers a wide variety of online Lenten resources, among them a retreat and a Holy Week devotional based on the seven last words of Christ. Contact Director of communications at Loyola is Molly Hart.

  • The Text This Week

    The Text This Week is a website of resources for study and liturgy based on the Revised Common Lectionary. It includes a movie concordance of film scenes pastors can use to illustrate their sermons and lessons. It is run by Jenee Woodard of Jackson, Mich.

  • “A Lenten Retreat with Refugees”

    Creighton University, a Catholic institution in Omaha, Neb., offers an online Lenten retreat with African refugees.

Alone and together

At this time of year, Christians and Jews divide their observances between communal practices – Lenten soup suppers, Passover seders and worship services – and solitary practices, such as fasting, study and prayer. What are the benefits or limits of solo and communal worship and practice, if only one is done? How do they enhance each other? Is it possible to fully honor Lent and Passover by worshipping only alone or only in a group? Which do people find it harder to make time for – community or individual devotions? Are churches and synagogues adopting new practices or adapting old ones in efforts to tailor them to their members’ busy lives?

Resources

  • Vanessa Ochs

    Vanessa Ochs is the author of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL’s Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings. She is a professor in the department of religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She can talk about the role of the Internet in the contemporary Jewish dating scene, life cycle rituals for single people and the creation of rituals that acknowledge the place of single people in the community.

  • Lawrence Hoffman

    Lawrence Hoffman is a rabbi and a professor of liturgy, worship and ritual at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, N.Y. He has written and edited The Art of Public Prayer: Not for Clergy Only (Skylight Paths, 1999), which has been used by both Christian and Jewish congregations to plan liturgy.

  • Ruth Haley Barton

    Ruth Haley Barton is co-founder of The Transforming Center, an organization in Wheaton, Ill., that helps develop church leaders. She teaches separate workshops on encountering God alone and in community. She is the author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence (Intervarsity Press, 2004).

'New Monasticism' and monastic chic

Starting in 2006 Monasticism has made a comeback in two surprising and very different ways. Lent, traditionally a period of introspection for Christians, is an opportunity to explore these two trends, one reaching back to the earliest days of Christianity and the other a modern response to the frenetic pace of contemporary life.

The “New Monasticism,” as it’s called, sounds a lot like the communal living of the Sixties — groups of people living and working together for the betterment of all, rejecting the status quo and its materialistic ways. But unlike the flower power movement, those involved in new monasticism are not on a journey of personal discovery in an idyllic natural setting. Instead, they are living among and serving the poor in the nation’s most blighted areas. They subscribe to a life of voluntary poverty, community living and prayer.

In 2004, at a conference near Duke University, a new monastic community called the Rutba House gathered preachers and academics, activists and community members from different states, denominations, and ethnic and social backgrounds. At the conference, the 12 Marks of a New Monasticism were established. Rutba House’s web site describes the community and others like it around the nation and gives resources for exploring New Monasticism. The community has also published a book, School(s) of Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism (Cascade Books, 2005).

In contrast, “monastic chic” caters to people seeking brief solace from the frustrations of modern life. Contemplative communities of various religious stripes have opened their doors, offering temporary retreats to those seeking peace and quiet for spiritual contemplation. While such retreats have been offered for years, observers say they continue to gain in popularity around the country.

Resources

  • “A Quiet Weekend With the Monks”

    A Feb. 18, 2005, New York Times article describes an Eastern Catholic Maronite monastery in Massachusetts that offers spiritual retreats. The story also has links to other monasteries around the country that open their doors to the public for spiritual retreats.

  • “On the path of least coexistence”

    Read a Jan. 16, 2005, Boston Globe article on a religious retreat in Tucson, Ariz.

  • Prayer Foundation

    The Prayer Foundation has a history of New Monasticism and its roots.

  • Lindisfarne Community

    The Lindisfarne Community is a neomonastic network that offers various links and an FAQ on the movement.

  • The Simple Way

    The Simple Way is a New Monasticism movement based in Philadelphia.

  • “The New Monasticism Movement”

    Read an account of the New Monasticism movement in the fall 2005 issue of the journal Divinity from the Duke Divinity School.

  • “The New Monasticism”

    Read a September 2005 Christianity Today article on New Monasticism.

Poverty and politics

Lent is popularly considered a season of self-denial, during which Christians “give up” various personal indulgences – chocolate, alcohol, meat and the like – in order to focus more clearly on their inner spiritual life and on their relationship with God. Increasingly, however, churches are stressing the importance of doing for others, especially the less fortunate, as a means of spiritual growth. That has led to a greater effort to talk about the connection between Christianity and social justice during Lent, which coincided in 2006 with the public debate over the federal budget.

Many Christian leaders believed the 2007 federal budget unfairly targeted the poor and vulnerable while unfairly rewarding the wealthy, as Yonce Shelton of Call to Renewal explains in this article in Sojourners magazine. Several Christian leaders were arrested during a December budget protest on Capitol Hill. But many Christian leaders on the conservative side of the aisle see the matter differently. A recent flashpoint was the narrow passage in February of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, as this Christianity Today article explains.

The budget showdown is seen by many as a microcosm of the growing debate between conservative and liberal Christians over how – and whether – the federal government should be caring for the poor. Increasingly, experts say, the issue is making strange bedfellows, as some traditionally conservative Christians are growing uneasy with the nation’s budget priorities.

Catholics, corned beef and St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick’s Day honors the Catholic saint credited with converting much of Ireland to Christianity in the fifth century, which fell on the same weekend as lent in March, 2006. In response, 13 Roman Catholic U.S. dioceses – at last count – announced that Catholics may forgo the usual ban on eating meat that weekend so that they could consume corned beef, as reported in a USA Today story.

It’s a great opportunity to explore the legacy of the Irish in American Catholicism. The Irish dominated Catholic culture in the United States for most of its history, and most U.S. bishops and priests have been Irish. That’s changing, with the influx of Hispanics and the decrease of Irish priests and lay people coming to America. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America is changing as well, with new diversity among its ranks.

Catholics who were given dispensation to eat corned beef on March 17 were generally being asked to do some act of penance or charity instead. What do Irish Catholics – and Irish bishops and priests – say they’ll do? By the way, corned beef is actually more of an American tradition, according to Irish Catholics, who say that in Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is known more as a church holiday than as a day of revelry. St. Patrick was known for establishing monasteries, schools and churches throughout Ireland.

Resources

  • Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown

    For statistics, see the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, the nonprofit research organization that conducts social scientific studies for the Catholic Church.

    Contact: 202-687-8080.
  • James O’Toole

    James O’Toole is a history professor at Boston College who specializes in American Catholic history and popular devotional practices.

  • John T. McGreevy

    John T. McGreevy is a respected historian of U.S. Catholicism. He is history professor and dean of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

  • Erik P. Goldschmidt

    Erik P. Goldschmidt is director of the Church in the 21st Century Initiative at Boston College. Its research includes the state of Catholic ministry in America.

  • Lawrence J. McCaffrey

    Lawrence J. McCaffrey is author of The Irish-Catholic Diaspora in America (Catholic University of America Press, 1998) and professor emeritus of history at Loyola University in Chicago.

  • Thomas Cahill

    Thomas Cahill, an Irish Catholic, is author of How the Irish Saved Civilization (Anchor, 1996) and served for a time as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London.

Lenten carbon fast catches fire

As religious groups’ commitment to the environment grows, one novel practice catching on is a carbon fast for Lent, the Christian liturgical season for reflection and sacrifice. The practice got a big push into visibility in 2008 when two of England’s most senior clerics, the bishops of Liverpool and London, called for a carbon fast in observance of Lent. Their call has drawn support from both religious and scientific leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The carbon fast has rippled across the ocean to America, where people of faith and some congregations, particularly Episcopal ones, are discussing it in blogs or church groups and taking up the practice.

Resources

  • St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral

    Members of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver have formed a green group to conduct an energy impact analysis, develop environmental policy for the cathedral and study environmental theology. Members have been asked to participate in the carbon fast. Mike Orr is communications director.

  • Ann Fontaine

    The Rev. Ann Fontaine is an Episcopal priest in Wyoming. She blogs at Green Lent.

  • Cru

    Cru (the Campus Crusade for Christ) is an interdenominational Christian organization that promotes evangelism and discipleship in more than 190 countries around the world.

    Contact: 888-278-7233.
  • United Church of Chapel Hill

    Members of United Church of Chapel Hill in North Carolina is a congregation church that “seeks to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.” Contact co-pastors Jill or Richard Edens.

  • West Central Episcopal Mission

    The West Central Episcopal Mission in Spokane, Wash., is dedicated to relieving urban poverty, addressing the root of its causes, and saving the environment one step at a time. The Rev. Kris Christensen is executive director and urban missioner.

Going green for Lent

In 2007, congregations across the U.S. held viewings of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. In evangelical circles, debate continues to burn hot over how much attention – if any – evangelicals should give to environmental concerns. And some Christians are saying that Lent and Easter – seasons of repentance and resurrection – are exactly the right time to reflect on the relationship between the people God created and God’s Earth.

Some congregations, concerned about the environmental impact of over-harvesting of palm products, have committed to using “Eco-Palms” on Palm Sunday. This is an effort to gather palm branches in a more environmentally friendly way in Mexico and Guatemala and provide a fair price to the farmers who harvest them; it’s similar to campaigns for fair-trade coffee and is supported by Lutherans, Catholics and Presbyterians.

And some congregations long have followed a tradition of outdoor Easter services, often at sunrise, on beaches and in parks, in cemeteries, on mountains and in canyons – celebrating the beauty of nature and the promise of Christ’s resurrection. Find out what congregations in your area are planning to do, and talk to people about what it means to them to worship in an outdoor cathedral.

Resources

  • Ann Fontaine

    The Rev. Ann Fontaine is an Episcopal priest in Wyoming. She blogs at Green Lent.

  • Creation Justice Ministries

    Creation Justice Ministries (formerly the National Council of Churches of Christ Eco-Justice Programs) works in cooperation with national bodies of Protestant denominations, Orthodox communions, regional faith groups and congregants to protect and restore God’s creation.

  • “For a Greener Palm Sunday Celebration”

    Read about the Eco-Palm movement in a Religion News Service story, published April 8, 2006, in The Washington Post.

  • “One Doc’s Medicine: Serve God, save the planet”

    Sleeth, an emergency-room doctor turned environmental advocate, sold his big house and gave away half of what he owned; read a Sept. 22, 2006, interview in the Austin Chronicle. He traveled the country, talking at churches and colleges and encouraging congregations to “go green.”

  • Calvary Lutheran Church

    Calvary Lutheran Church in Federal Way, Wash. sponsors Lenten studies focused on the environment. Calvary’s “Caretakers of Creation” program includes a study of J. Matthew Sleeth’s book Serve God, Save the Planet (Chelsea Green and Zondervan, 2006).

  • Melanie Hardison

    Melanie Hardison works with the Enough for Everyone Project and serves at the national level for the Presbyterian Church.

Good Friday, the Latino-Catholic way

The Way, or Stations, of the Cross is a tradition of honoring Jesus’ journey from trial to death that is as old as Christianity. Latinos have their own distinctive way of re-enacting Via Cruces, one that is usually more public, more passionate and more connected to the suffering and oppression experienced in contemporary life. Latinos — now the country’s largest minority, at 52 million or almost 17 percent of the population — are also dispersing, bringing Hispanics into more communities and congregations. Thirty-nine percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic, and Hispanics accounted for 71 percent of Catholic growth from 1960 to 2001, according to statistics from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. If Latino Catholics in your community re-enact Via Cruces, it is a wonderful narrative, set against the changing demographics of Catholicism and the United States.

Resources

  • Timothy Matovina

    Timothy Matovina is an associate professor of theology and executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He is an expert in theology and culture, specializing in U.S. Catholic and U.S. Latino theology and religion.

  • Gerald R. Barnes

    Gerald R. Barnes is executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs, whose mission is to assist the Catholic Church in its efforts to serve the large Hispanic population in the United States.

  • Esdras Betancourt

    Esdras Betancourt is director of the Hispanic Ministries department of the Church of God, in Cleveland, Tenn.

    Contact: 423-478-7100.
  • “Way of the Cross”

    Read a New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the history of the Way – or Stations – of the Cross.

  • “Pope Francis and Hispanic American Catholics”

    Read about the decline of Hispanic-Catholic community that was once booming in this Feb. 26, 2013 Public Religion Research Institute article.

Easter

Ministry marathon: Easter dash

Consider the growth of multisite megachurches, where one church adds satellite campuses in nearby cities and pastors run from one to another on Sunday morning. Add the influx of holiday worshippers and extra Easter services, and many pastors will be running around like the Easter Bunny on the big day. The decline in the number of clergy in some denominations, particularly in rural areas, also creates clergy crunch time, with ministers dashing from one church to another.

Many clergy are already overworked, but feel an added obligation to perform well at services crowded with people who don’t regularly attend church. The growing desire for worship services to be highly orchestrated and emotionally charged “events” means that the people who lead them feel a need to be at their best, clergy consultants say.

Resources

  • Hartford Institute for Religion Research

    The Hartford Institute for Religion Research at the Hartford Seminary is an excellent resource and includes a database of more than 800 megachurches in the United States. Contact Scott Thumma, professor of the sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary.

  • Alban Institute

    The Alban Institute in Herndon, Va., provides data and expert commentators on congregational and clergy dynamics.

Easter in emergent churches

The emergent, or postmodern, church is marked by creative worship forms and a disregard for denominational authority. They like to “do it themselves,” and many of their innovations – like praise music and small group ministry – are later adopted by more traditional churches. Emergent churches commonly attract the young and the previously “unchurched,” people typically unfamiliar with the traditional forms of Lenten and Easter worship. How do emerging churches celebrate Easter and Lent? How quickly do their ways of “doing” the church holidays spread to other, more traditional churches?

Resources

  • Dan Kimball

    Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., and author of The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2003) in which he coined the phrase “vintage Christianity” for the experience of a generation in search of mysterious, authentic, deeply spiritual and thoughtful faith outside traditional churches. He is author of additional books about Christianity and modern interpretations and applications.

  • David J. Lose

    David J. Lose holds the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He is author of Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003).

Orthodox honor 'Forgiveness Sunday'

In the Orthodox Church, Lent is a rich season of special liturgies, colorful services and seasonal hymns that build toward the Holy Week, then Pascha (Easter) itself. One of the most evocative and representative traditions to write about is Forgiveness Sunday, with its special liturgy on the eve of the Lenten fast. Besides the traditional forgiveness liturgy, some churches offer a moving forgiveness ritual after Sunday vespers. The service varies, but often includes the chance for worshippers to ask forgiveness and to offer it to each other. It’s an opportunity to enter Lent cleansed and in a receptive frame of mind. Although the Orthodox Lenten fast can be quite austere, the emphasis is less on sacrifice than on forgiveness, repentance and the internal transformation of Christians striving to reach new lives inspired by the life and resurrection of Jesus.

Forgiveness Sunday is also called “Cheese Fair Sunday,” because it’s the last chance to eat dairy products before Lent begins and animal products are eschewed. The first day of Lent often is called “Clean Monday.”

Orthodoxy comprises a family of national churches deriving from the original patriarchies of Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch (Lebanon) and Rome. After the Great Schism (1054 CE), Orthodox churches and Rome split. Three main (and many smaller) Orthodox traditions predominate in the United States. Contact information and web sites where local parishes can be located are listed below.

Resources

For Western Christians, Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, also focuses on forgiveness. It, too, is the last day before Lent begins, a day to indulge in soon-to-be-abstained-from foods. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the verb shrive (past tense is shrove) involves giving or obtaining absolution and confession.

  • Orthodox Church in America

    The Orthodox Church in America website gives a detailed explanation of the faith. It also lists the 19 self-governing and self-ruling Orthodox churches worldwide, which include the OCA. (The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is directly under the authority of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople in Turkey, and is not administratively related to the Church of Greece.)  Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (historically Russian) is Metropolitan Tikhon, located in Syosset, N.Y. Find local parishes.

  • Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America

    Primate of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America (historically Arab) is Metropolitan Philip, in Englewood, N.J. Find a local parish.

  • Kyriacos C. Markides

    Kyriacos C. Markides is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine and author of The Mountain of Silence: a Search for Orthodox Spirituality (Doubleday/Random House, 2001).

Easter: let there be light

The story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is filled with symbolism that has given rise to rituals and objects. One such object is the paschal candle of Easter, which symbolically represents light returning to the world through the overcoming of sin and death. An ancient symbol, the paschal candle remains lit in churches until the celebration of Ascension Day, marking the time when Jesus returned to heaven. Easter and the paschal candle could provide an occasion to examine the local level of current interest in ancient and traditional rituals that the paschal candle richly exemplifies. It can also be an opportunity to examine local interest in liturgical arts or in spiritual crafting.

Resources

  • “Paschal Candle”

    Read about the symbolism and history of the paschal candle in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

  • “Eighteen Questions On The Paschal Triduum”

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops answers questions about the role of the paschal candle in Easter rites.

  • Martin Marklin

    Martin Marklin is a liturgical artist in Contoocook, N.H., who makes paschal candles.

    Contact: 603-746-2211.
  • Luke Smetters

    Luke Smetters is a candle carver who has led workshops at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Ill., where he is also a student. Contact him at Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, Mich., where he is the vicar.

  • William Dyrness

    William Dyrness is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Among his books are Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism, which he co-authored with Jonathan A. Anderson, and Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue.

  • Betsy Steele Halstead

    Betsy Steele Halstead is a visual arts specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Get in touch with the dark side

The time before Easter is traditionally a dark time on the liturgical calendar. Many Christians express discomfort with its contemplation and remembrance of Christ’s betrayal, abandonment and suffering, preferring the “light” – and lightheartedness – of Easter. But more Christians are beginning to embrace the spiritual value of darkness, participating in Buddhist-inspired “dark retreats” and candlelit Tenebrae – Latin for “shadows” — services.

Resources

  • Martin Lowenthal

    Martin Lowenthal is the founder and director of the Dedicated Life Institute in Newton, Mass. He is also the author of Dawning of Clear Light: A Western Approach to Tibetan Dark Retreat (Hampton Roads, 2003).

    Contact: 617-527-8606.
  • Joan Halifax

    Joan Halifax is the author of Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Grove Press, 2004). She is the founder of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M.

    Contact: 505-986-8518.
  • Mirabai Starr

    Mirabai Starr is an adjunct professor of religious studies and philosophy at the University of New Mexico in Taos. She is the translator of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul (Riverhead, 2002).

  • Michael Stillwater

    Michael Stillwater is the founder of Inner Harmony. With his partner, Doris Laesser, he led a group of Americans on a dark retreat in Switzerland in January 2006. He lives in Marin County, Calif.

  • John Chryssavgis

    The Rev. John Chryssavgis is author of Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition. He taught theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and  serves as theological adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues.

    Contact: 617-731-3500.
  • “What is a Tenebrae Service?”

    Read about Tenebrae services and their recreation of the emotional aspects of the passion story on the Rev. Ken Collins’ web site.

Faith views on suffering

Easter calls on Christians to consider the meaning of suffering. But since suffering is a central mystery to all faiths, consider writing about how all religions seek to explain why, if God is good, pain and catastrophe can be random and unearned:

  • Christianity: The faith’s central tenet is the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus: He was without sin, but he accepted torture and death so humanity could be absolved of sin and freed from eternal damnation. Some Christians view suffering as a test of faith and a way to grow closer to God.
  • Islam: Suffering is seen by Muslims as an opportunity to strengthen one’s faith and to reinforce Islam’s central commandment, which is submission to the will of Allah.
  • Judaism: Orthodox Jews teach that suffering can be an indication that one’s devotion to study and prayer are insufficient, or it can be God’s way of provoking growth. There is an acceptance among Jews that God’s intentions, while always good, are unknowable. Judaism emphasizes the necessity for humans to work to alleviate suffering on Earth.
  • Hinduism: Hinduism teaches that humans cannot control the events that cause suffering. Rather, they can control their attachment to the world, which is the root cause of suffering and the origin of the cycle of reincarnation into the suffering world. Attaining nonattachment provides liberation from suffering.
  • Buddhism: Suffering arises from attachment — to stuff, to life, to each other, to pleasure, to anything at all, Buddhists believe. The aim is to accept reality, completely and without reservation, in each moment, even when suffering is a component of that moment. The way out of suffering is the Eightfold Path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Resources

  • Janet Gyatso

    Janet Gyatso is Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard Divinity School in Boston, where she is co-chairwoman of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism section and president of the International Association of Tibetan Studies. Her work focuses on Tibetan Buddhism and religious culture, including issues of sex and gender. She is co-author of Women in Tibet: Past and Present.

  • Ingrid Mattson

    Ingrid Mattson holds the London & Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College in London, Ontario, Canada, and is widely respected among American Muslims for her scholarship. She is an expert in Islamic law.

     

  • Brian A. Hatcher

    Brian Hatcher is a scholar of the Hindu tradition in colonial and contemporary India at Tufts University. His research interests include the transformation of intellectual and social life in colonial Bengal, the interrogation of modernity under the conditions of colonialism, and the expression of religious change among emergent Hindu movements.

  • Arthur Caplan

    Arthur Caplan is a professor of bioethics and director of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s school of medicine. He co-edited Assisted Suicide: Finding Common Ground.

  • Jerry Walls

    Jerry Walls, philosophy of religion professor at Houston Baptist University, has written about making sense of evil and Christian conceptions of God. He is co-editor of The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy (Open Court Press) and co-author of C.S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century From the Most Influential Apologists (InterVarsity Press, 1998).

  • Raphael Grunfeld

    Raphael Grunfeld is a New York attorney and Jewish scholar who can explain Jewish philosophy and religious thought regarding suffering.

  • David J. Wolpe

    David J. Wolpe is senior rabbi of Temple Sinai, a Conservative congregation in Los Angeles. A well-known speaker and writer, he has written several books, among them The Healer of Shattered Hearts: A Jewish View of God (Henry Holt & Co., 1990) and (with Mitch Albom) Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times (Riverhead Trade, 2000).

Foot-washing: A spiritual ritual

You kneel, bow your head, take a person’s feet in your hands and wash them gently. This ritual – taken from the account in John’s Gospel of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper – is re-created in many churches on Maundy Thursday. Not all Christians are comfortable with it, and contemporary re-enactments have not been without controversy. But some say this ritual – kneeling in service, physically touching another person, washing away dirt and pain – can have profound spiritual implications for a deeply divided world. It has sometimes been practiced in recognition of the pains of history – with Hutus and Tutsis washing each other’s feet (at the 2004 World Evangelization Forum), with people washing the feet of those of other races or religions. What does it mean to wash the feet of someone who has been a friend, an enemy, a stranger, someone overlooked by the world? Which is more difficult – to kneel before someone in service, or to accept their cleansing of you?

Resources

Baptisms--of all kinds--abound

Since the earliest days of the church, Easter has been a time to present new converts for entrance into the church through baptism. The tradition of wearing new clothes on Easter comes in part from the fresh white robes people wore as they were led into the church for baptism. In many churches that Easter tradition of baptism – of making new commitments of faith on Holy Saturday or on Easter Sunday itself – remains strong, offering great storytelling opportunities about changed hearts and searches for God as well as the contrast of how different traditions embrace and initiate new converts.

The ways of baptisms are as varied as the Christian church itself. Some dunk, some sprinkle. Some baptize infants, others wait for an age of reason or the movement of the Holy Spirit. Tradition takes a modern spin as churches emphasize convenience – by baptizing in the local swimming pool – or creativity – baptisms broadcast on the Internet for far-flung relatives to witness. And some churches are putting new emphasis on old traditions by insisting on more careful preparation of adult or child converts for membership in the church. The significance of adult conversions to faith is particularly potent in a country with a strong secular influence, in which many people live outside the sway of organized religion.

Resources

  • “Eutychus Fell: Becoming Catholic, an RCIA Blog”

    The Roman Catholic Church welcomes thousands of new believers into the faith each year at Easter Vigil. Some are converts from Protestantism, but those who are new Christians make the sacraments of baptism, First Eucharist and confirmation all in one momentous night. Read the blog of a lifelong Methodist who became a Catholic during Easter vigil 2005.

  • “Baptism”

    Read a Jan. 12, 2003, sermon that Charles Rush gave at Christ Church in Summit, N.J., describing the Easter tradition of baptism in the ancient church.

Icons at Easter

Iconography is figuring prominently in religion news, from cartoon depictions of Muhammad to the soon-to-be-released film The DaVinci Code. For many Christians, symbols play an important part in Easter observances, whether it’s the cross (or crucifix), lilies or even Easter eggs. Consider providing a story and/or photo essay on Easter symbols, their origins and how they differ from one church to the next in your area. Western Christians celebrate Easter on April 16, and Orthodox Christians, who have a rich history of iconography, celebrate Easter on April 23.

Resources

  • “Idolatry”

    Read Wikipedia’s entry about differing Christian views on the use of religious objects and symbols.

  • “Pictures: Easter symbols — the origins and back story”

    Read a Chicago Tribune post about the popular symbols that go along with Easter and their meanings.

  • “Cross or Crucifix?”

    Read a Dallas Morning News article about how a church’s theology determines what kind of cross it displays. It’s posted by thecross-photo.com.

  • “An Eye for Glory”

    Read an October 2002 Dallas Morning News profile of an Orthodox Christian icon painter.

     

  • “Easter Symbols”

    The Bible Resource Center includes references to Scripture verses that can be associated with various Easter symbols.

Passover

Out of Bondage

The release of prisoners back into the world is significant at this season. Passover celebrates the release of Jews from bondage in Egypt. For Christians, Lent commemorates the time that Jesus wandered and was tested in the wilderness, and Easter celebrates humanity’s release, through his crucifixion and resurrection, from sin and death. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, some 650,000 Americans are released each year from prisons and jails. As congregations become involved with prisoner re-entry programs, the themes of Passover, Lent and Easter — spiritual trials and testing, the exaltation of freedom, the return home after captivity or after a siege in the wilderness — echo in the lives of inmates rejoining society.

Resources

  • Leonard Sipes

    Leonard Sipes, senior public affairs specialist for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia, works with faith-based prisoner re-entry programs.

  • Omar McRoberts

    Omar McRoberts, associate professor at the University of Chicago sociology department, has studied faith-based prisoner re-entry programs. He wrote Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood (University of Chicago Press, 2005).

  • Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign

    The Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign connects reporters with re-entry programs and is particularly interested in helping shine a spotlight on faith-based prisoner release efforts around the country. The campaign is run by Outreach Extensions and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Contact Sally Turner, re-entry project director.

  • InnerChange Freedom Initiative

    Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative is a Christian religious program meant to help prisoners make the transition back to freedom. InnerChange starts working with them behind bars and organizes support and volunteers from local churches to help them upon their release.

    Contact: 800-206-9764.
  • Inner City Muslim Action Network

    The Inner City Muslim Action Network is a small nonprofit serving Chicago’s South Side and Southwest communities. Prisoner re-entry is among its programs.

  • “Justice Policy Center”

    The Urban Institute offers background and research on prisoner re-entry and a list of institute experts on the topic.

  • Jewish Prisoner Services

    Jewish Prisoner Services serves Jewish inmates before, during and after incarceration.

Working women's Passover panic

For many Jews, the celebration of Passover (Pesach) is a wonderful thing. They love the traditions, the food, the retelling of the story of the Jews’ freedom from slavery. Passover is one of the most popular Jewish holidays, and it’s typically celebrated with friends and family of all ages gathering around a Seder – home-cooked, of course. But some working women acknowledge that doing Passover “right” involves weeks of exhausting work – emptying the cupboards of every scrap of leavened food (called chametz), cleaning meticulously, hauling out special dishes, preparing the traditional foods. One woman told of being so tired from the preparation that she fell asleep at the Seder table. These working women want to make Passover special for their families, but they also want it to be a time of real spiritual freedom, not of kitchen enslavement.

Talk to Jewish women about how they approach Passover – whether they follow all the rules, whether they cut corners, whether they look forward to it with anticipation or dread. Is preparing for Pesach considered “women’s work,” or does everyone in the family help out? What do single people do? Do younger women approach Passover in the same way their mothers and grandmothers did, or are attitudes changing? And how important is perfection anyway – how clean does the house really need to be?

Talk to people at synagogues and Jewish seminaries about the spiritual significance of Passover and ways that busy Jews can try to balance the stress with a sense of freedom that Passover commemorates. Is there a way to turn the physical work into something spiritual?

Find experienced Seder-givers who can provide tips for doing some of the work ahead (make the matzo balls and freeze them) or breaking it down into manageable steps. Look for observant families who work as a team and have discovered joy in passing down the traditions and in the annual spring cleaning. And what about a potluck Seder?

Particularly in bigger cities, check out restaurants that offer Passover Seders or caterers that will deliver traditional Seder foods. Some delis or grocery stores offer take-out Seder food – brisket or gefilte fish to go?

Resources

    Jews wander on Passover

    While many Jews prefer to be among family and friends in their own homes during Passover, the more adventurous want their chopped liver poolside. “Pesach in Acapulco!” the WanderingJew.Net web site promises. Why be stuck inside when you could be sunning on a hammock on a kosher cruise?

    TotallyJewishTravel.com advertises Passover vacations in more than 100 locales, including the Caribbean, Israel, Mexico, Australia and Argentina. If you want to stick closer to home, there’s the “Magical Passover” program in Orlando. For observant Jews, there’s nothing un-kosher about traveling to a hotel where the food is Glatt Kosher. MatzaFunTours even offers the kosher “South Beach” option for those skipping the noodle kugel.

    The cost of such 10-night excursions ranges from $2,500, not including airfare, to $7,000, depending on the quality of the hotel. The reasons for taking a Passover break vary. It’s a popular option for the newly widowed. Some people want to avoid the elaborate process of cleaning and preparing their houses for Passover. Many families designate Passover as their annual family vacation, sometimes traveling in groups of 20 or more. In the words of one tour agent: “It’s not just Passover. It’s MatzaFun!”

    Resources

    • MatzaFunTours

      Jerry Abramson’s MatzaFunTours in Cherry Hill, N.J., says it has hosted Passover Seder vacations with numerous activities for two decades.

    • The Wandering Jew

      The Wandering Jew, part of Ontario Travel Bureau, is an agency that books more than 50 Passover events, including Seder cruises.

    • TotallyJewishTravel

      TotallyJewishTravel sells advertising space for Passover events in more than 40 U.S. locations and on five continents. It’s a good place to look for an overview.

    The greening of Passover

    Contemporary environmental awareness draws on distinctive elements in Jewish tradition. Many critical episodes in the story of God’s chosen people take place outdoors: Adam and Eve started life in a garden, Moses went to the mountain to talk with God, the Exodus led Jews into the wilderness. Jewish teachers are seizing on this tradition, using the great outdoors to talk about understanding and honoring the environment from a Jewish point of view.

    Jewish tradition is also rich on the subject of food, which is central to the Passover ritual. As part of the larger imperative of sustaining the Earth, today’s environmentalists are concerned about the conditions in which food is grown and produced. Sustainability meets kosher in the growth of community-supported agriculture. At the same time, distinctly Jewish community is built on new relationships between producers and consumers of food.

    Resources

    • Hazon

      Hazon is an organization promoting healthy Jewish communities in a variety of ways, including outdoor challenge and food programs. Based in New York, Hazon has developed bike and hike programs, and its food wing promotes community-supported agriculture in 18 communities, up from 10 in 2007. Other food programs include a curriculum, an annual conference and a blog. Nigel Savage is president.

    • The Jew and the Carrot

      The Jew and the Carrot is a blog by The Jewish Daily Forward for Jews interested in sustainability and the politics of food. It maintains a list of contributing writers.

    • Arthur Waskow

      Rabbi Arthur Waskow is a Reconstructionist rabbi who is director of the Shalom Center, which promotes activism and education around Jewish environmentalism. He is the author of Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex and the Rest of Life. Read his essay “Passover as if Earth Really Matters” in the April 2008 online edition of The Nation.

    • Jewish Farm School

      The Jewish Farm School is a Philadelphia-based effort to create a Jewish way of working land.

    • Jamie Korngold

      Jamie Korngold is the Adventure Rabbi and author of God in the Wilderness: Rediscovering the Spirituality of the Great Outdoors With the Adventure Rabbi. She is based in Boulder, Colo.

      Contact: 303-417-6200 ext. 1.
    • Mike Comins

      Rabbi Mike Comins is the founder of TorahTrek, an organization that connects Jewish spirituality to outdoor adventures. He is the author of A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways Into Judaism. He lives in Los Angeles. Contact him through the form on TorahTrek’s website.

    • Katy Z. Allen

      Katy Z. Allen is rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah, a “congregation without walls” in the Boston area that connects Judaism to nature and social justice.

    • Ellen Bernstein

      Ellen Bernstein is founder of Shomrei Adamah, the first national Jewish environmental organization, founded in 1988.  She is author of The Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology and numerous articles on Judaism and ecology.  She teaches at Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., and consults in the area of religion and ecology.

    • Canfei Nesharim

      Canfei Nesharim (Hebrew for “the wings of eagles”) works to educate the Orthodox Jewish community about preserving the environment. Evonne Marzouk is the organization’s founder and executive director.

    • Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

      The Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., is home to a number of environmental programs and an organic farm. Nigel Savage is the president and CEO.

    • Teva Learning Center

      Teva Learning Center is a Jewish environmental education institute. It is nondenominational and provides educational service for participants from Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues, camps and youth groups. Yishai Cohen is director of programs.

    • Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

      The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life concentrates on fuel economy and climate change as well as power plants and children’s environmental health. Its national partners are the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. It has offices in New York City and Washington. Jared Feldman is vice president and director of the Washington office.

    • Brant Rosen

      Brant Rosen is rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill. The congregation rebuilt its building to make it sustainable and moved back into it in February 2008.

      Contact: 847-328-7678.

    Passover outreach

    Passover is the most celebrated of all Jewish holidays and the one that is most likely to be observed by Jews who don’t attend synagogue. It’s also increasingly being recognized as an opportunity for reaching out to non-affiliated and non-practicing Jews as well as Jews in interfaith marriages. The eight-day holiday commemorates the Israelites’ freedom after generations of slavery in Egypt. Its most prominent feature is a Seder meal, in which family and friends gather for a ritualized meal that includes the retelling of the Exodus story.

    The U.S. Jewish population is grappling with decreasing numbers and falling levels of synagogue affiliation and practice. Nearly half of Jews who married since 1996 wed people of other faiths, and only one-third of their children are being raised Jewish, according to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey. Jewish communities are divided over whether Jews should encourage conversion when they traditionally have not. However, outreach to younger Jews and non-practicing Jews is increasingly considered essential to sustaining Jewish life in America.

    In 2006 a program called “Passover in the Ailes,” created by the Jewish Outreach Institute, encourages synagogue members to reach out to non-affiliated Jews right before Passover. The idea is to meet Jews and invite them to synagogue in a comfortable manner. This program has been adopted and used by many other Jewish networks around the nation. Are synagogues and Jewish institutions in your area approaching Passover as an outreach opportunity?

    Resources

    Related source guides