Instead of giving up chocolate, French fries, television or other typical worldly pleasures for Lent this year, about 60 Savannah-area residents are observing the Lenten season in a different way: by living locally.
Striving to eat locally produced food, patronize locally owned businesses and build relationships within the community, they are attempting to live more simply during their 40-day experiment.
Trinity United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Enoch Hendry is leading two six-week courses that are challenging participants to "live local.”
Born out of conversations had during Rev. Hendry’s weekly Wednesday afternoon brown bag Bible study group, the two courses, which meet on Tuesday evenings and Wednesdays during lunch, have sparked the interest of church members and non-members alike. Rev. Hendry says that of the approximately 60 study participants, about half are not members of the church’s congregation.
Quick to point out that this is not about boycotting corporate chain retailers and restaurants but a 40-day experiment and Lenten discipline, Rev. Hendry says it’s about finding ways to support local businesses and learning to live more locally.
“This isn’t just about buying and shopping and eating,” he said. “But about simplifying our lives and figuring out ways we can do that. It’s also about building relationships. Relationship building and community building are very important parts of this.”
Church members Matt Deacon and his wife Jennifer are on board for the challenge.
“The Living Locally program seemed like a perfect opportunity to see how our Christian beliefs align with some of our contemporary, sustainable and ‘green’ beliefs, and get a chance to see the parallels between them,” he said.
As they read through the lectionary text each week, the scriptures pretty clearly spell out some of the same things they are trying to practice in their lives, he said.
Rev. Hendry says that seeing how the lectionary scriptures align and coincide with their study has been one of the most exciting things about the exercise.
“I’ve been a lectionary preacher for 30 years, and the lectionary texts have lent themselves so perfectly to this initiative,” Rev. Hendry said. “We’ve found hooks and ways of using the scripture that have been surprising, the way it’s matched up and helped us consider things. Last week’s Isaiah text was absolutely amazing and perfect for our time together (Isaiah 55:1-9).”
Deacon admitted that living locally has been a challenge, especially when trying to find fresh, locally grown produce during the winter, but that he and his wife are committed to the endeavor and plan to continue it past Easter.
“As we take these extra steps to live locally, we realize how much convenience plays a part in the choices we make and how important it is to support local food growers and the local economy,” he said. “It’s not something we want to do just for Lent. We want to maintain this and grow and learn.”
Fran Stanley, also a member of Trinity UMC, shopped at a locally owned grocery store for the first time during this study, and is joining a local food cooperative. The co-op will deliver boxes of fresh, locally grown produce to her doorstep once a week.
“This is, in part, a giving up of something to realize a sacrifice and make yourself think of other things,” said Stanley, who attends the Tuesday evening study with her husband. “But this is also a good-works program and that, to me, is very much a part of Lent as well. You don’t necessarily have to give something up, but can give to something. This is self-denial, because I’m changing something I do, but this is also doing good.”
Deacon echoes her sentiment.
“A lot of Jesus’ parables and lessons were about community and taking care of each other and looking beyond your own needs to the needs of the people around you,” he said. “I think that seeing how every purchase you make and everything you do affects your neighbors kind of ties Jesus’ message into your daily life and makes you have to see the bigger picture. That’s an important thing we’re taking away from it.”
This experiment is a perfect way to observe Lent, Rev. Hendry said.
“This is about living locally during Lent. The living is the most critical aspect, especially as it’s related to an observance of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for what we will do and what we will be at Easter, and if the resurrection faith of Easter insists that we can start over, that we can begin again – even live again – then the preparation faith of Lent tells us that we can be different people and that we can live differently. This isn’t about buying or eating or shopping or even thinking differently, this is about living differently.”
Living differently during the 40 days of Lent and continuing to do so after Easter is a goal for Stanley. “I very much want it to be part of my lifestyle beyond Lent.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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