Life was not easy for the woman we now know as Julian of Norwich. Born in 1342 in England, her childhood memories included the black death and peasant revolts.
Yet the writings of Julian are extremely optimistic.
Her best-known quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” exemplifies the hopefulness that characterizes this woman. Hope was not universally embodied in the popular theology of the time. In that bleak period we now call the Dark Ages, the church portrayed a God who was vengeful, who readily punished wicked sinners.
Julian of Norwich spoke of God’s love in terms of joy and compassion. Aside from her writings, notably her major work, “Revelations of Divine Love,” which is believed to be the first book written by a woman in the English language, little is know of Julian.
Even her real name is not known to us. As was customary in those days, she adopted the name of her church, The Church of St. Julian in Norwich, where she lived a life of contemplative prayer.
Julian of Norwich was the topic of discussion for a Lenten series at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Los Alamos, N.M. Cynthia Biddlecomp, associate in ministry, led the discussion during “Lessons and Lentils,” a Lenten soup and study series offered during the lunch hour by the city congregation.
Bethlehem has offered the luncheon series, a departure from the traditional mid-week evening service, for over 15 years. Three people from the congregation bring soup and another donates bread. A group of 20 to 25 people, made up of retirees and office workers from the area, gather from 12:10 to 12:50 to eat and study such topics as Julian of Norwich. Last year the pastor led a discussion on Brother Lawrence.
Whom would you like to reach or teach this Lenten season? If few working people are interested in Sunday morning adult forums, how about offering a luncheon series? If seniors do not want to venture out to a Wednesday evening service, why not offer a breakfast Bible study?
The congregation at Bethlehem has also taken part in an ecumenical series for more than 20 years. On Wednesday evenings one of the partner congregations — a different denomination per week — hosts a simple Lenten supper followed by an evening of study and prayer.
This series offers classes for all ages on four or five topics. Area congregations offer one class per church a week from 6:40 to 7:20. At 7:30 the entire group meets and concludes with a “Holden Evening Prayer” service.
Here are a few ideas from other ELCA congregations that have added to their Lenten ministry:
- First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Upper Sandusky, Ohio, serves a weekly men’s Lenten luncheon that features a different speaker each week, beginning on Ash Wednesday.
- St. Paul Lutheran Church, Upper Sandusky, Ohio, hosts an ecumenical women’s luncheon. Congregations of diverse denominations provide the meal and a speaker every week.
- Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Florham Park, N.J., hosts brown bag lunches. Those attending noon services are invited to bring a bag lunch. The congregation also hosts soup and bread dinners in the evening.
- Zumbro Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn., has hosted Lenten breakfasts for many years, with members giving talks about their faith journeys. These 20-minute talks have been compiled into books.
- St. John’s Lutheran Church, Highland, Pa., offers three meals each Wednesday in Lent: a Bible-study breakfast, a luncheon after Lenten early service and a dinner with small group study before evening services.