Among these Lenten ashes…

Dear Siblings in Christ:
I’ve been struggling with this letter for a while now. We’re figuring out who will continue on our committees, who is stepping down, and what positions we need to fill. This was supposed to be a letter encouraging you to consider being part of our committees or nominating someone else. That’s still going to be a part of this note, but I can’t go forward with acknowledging something else.
These times are hard, and we’re all feeling it. There isn’t one organization I’m part of or one congregation I’m in conversation with that isn’t struggling at least a bit. Even more to the point, there isn’t one organization I’m part of or one congregation I’m in conversation with whose people aren’t struggling at least a bit. Members and leadership are stepping down or stepping aside in unprecedented numbers, and few people are willing to step into those positions. 
The word “willing” doesn’t quite cover it, actually. It’s more like “able.” It’s not just individuals that have been sickened by the pandemic. We’re in a collective “long COVID” state. At the same time, all our collective faults are becoming more apparent, too. Every day seems like a meditation on what we could have done better. 
For better and for worse, many systems we used so many resources to build and maintain are crumbling. So, friends, I invite you to…

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
The fact that so many systems are crumbling is not all bad news. Some have become unjust, corrupt, and inhuman entities whose only real purpose was their perpetuation. Others are facades covering a purpose that crumbled away years ago. Others were cages that captured the energy of movements that needed to be set free. That might not have been as clear a couple of years ago, but the pandemic has been a refining fire of sorts. There are days we might feel among the flames and days we might be sitting in ashes but, right now, pause…

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
Take a moment to look around. See what is left. Let me tell you what I see. Among these Lenten ashes, I see that human dignity remains. I see courage. I see love. I see grace. Some days, it may still be among the flames, but I see the glow of hope getting ready to spread its wings like a phoenix. I see justice getting ready to take a breath. I see humility starting to poke through the mud like a spring crocus. Again…

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
If you can’t see these things right now, that’s OK. Know you are surrounded by the love of God. You truly are. Rest in the love of God. Take time to heal. You’re not deficient but you may be wounded. Rest. Heal. Recover. These are your callings for right now. It is what the world needs of you.
If, however, you have started to see some of these things remaining among the ashes, the world needs you to point towards them and gather around them. The world needs you to resist doing what you “should” do but to do what you can do and what you’re called to do. For many of you, it will mean strategically placing yourself within organizational life in order to help make room for what the Spirit is revealing. Movement-making is also called “organizing” for a reason. At its best, it helps humans collectively respond to the sacred intentions propelling us forward. The world needs that right now and is more receptive than it may seem on the surface.

Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let that one out slowly, too.
You have likely seen this quote by Frederick Buechner before:

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”As your church or the Pacific Northwest Conference invites you into work of leadership and service, consider the ways that might present an opening for you to find deep gladness addressing the deep hungers of the world in some way. At its best, the church has ways of addressing those things the world is hungering to have addressed; hopelessness, injustice, loneliness, and fear. We’re not always at our best but it may be your offering of time, skills, and energy that can help make things better. Consider that. What you may have to offer may seem small but it may be exactly what the world needs.
With hope,



Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister of The ​Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ

You can give to the ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference by going to and clicking on the “Donate” button​.​

Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev

2 thoughts on “Among these Lenten ashes…

  1. Mike, Your letter spoke deeply to me and to the world today. What a time. We barely have time breathe after COVID and now we find our breath robbed every time we turn on the news we see our brothers and sisters suffering in Ukraine.
    So, how fitting! You encourage us to slowly inhale and exhale!

    I am a UCC pastor here in Kansas/Oklahoma. I count among my dear friends colleagues in the Pacific Northwest.

    I also want to extend to you that I am happy to be a resource for pastors and others in the conference, as a coach. I have an ongoing practice that includes serving many UCC pastors. You can visit my website

    Blessings to you and all the good folk of the Northwest! Peter Luckey


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