As thousands of Catholics line up to receive the sign of the cross in ashes on Wednesday to mark the start of Lent, more Protestants are joining the tradition to observe Easter more meaningfully.
The 40-day season of Lent a period of fasting and prayer that precedes Easter is largely observed by Roman Catholics. Although some mainline Protestant denominations, including Anglicans and Episcopalians, continue to devoutly follow the tradition, Lent is not typically observed in evangelical churches.
"Easter is huge in evangelical churches," but they do not observe "Lent as Lent," noted the Rev. Sam Shaw of Hope Church in Tupelo, Mo., according to the Daily Journal.
Still, "Easter must have preparation," Shaw said. And some non-liturgical churches are embracing Lenten disciplines.
"There is a trend ... toward more sacramental forms and it is not surprising to see the recovery of imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday," said the Rev. Daniel K. Dunlap, vice president of Houston Graduate School of Theology and a liturgy expert, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Houston, said he will administer ashes at a service Wednesday night, as reported by the local Chronicle.
Most Baptists do not observe Lent. Many of them prepare for Easter by contemplating on the Word rather than through ritual, said the Rev. Kermit McGregor of Calvary Baptist Church in Missouri, as reported by the Daily Journal.
But McGregor, along with many Baptists, finds value in Lenten disciplines such as fasting, which many do to identify with Christ's sacrifice.
Fasting is "a great way to focus and to enter more deeply into prayer," he said.
Mark Batterson, lead pastor of the nondenominational National Community Church in Washington, D.C., started observing Lent a few years ago. This year, he's fasting television for 40 days with his son and is planning to pray and read Scripture daily.
"It (observing Lent) has made Easter so much more meaningful," Batterson wrote on his Web log. "I feel like I'm preparing myself spiritually to re-experience the crucifixion and resurrection."
This year's Lent begins Feb. 6, the earliest since 1913 when Lent started on Feb. 5. Easter falls on March 23.