Evanston residents reflect, connect during Lent


Elisa Huang/The Daily Northwestern

Bennison’s offers semlor and hot cross buns throughout the period of Lent.

Divya Bhardwaj, Assistant City Editor

Evanston residents will have opportunities for personal reflection and interpersonal engagement this Lent. 

“Coming out of the more intense pandemic years, our community is looking for ways to beef up that sense of spirituality and as well as have deeper connections with one another,” Sarah Petersen, director of learning and outreach at First Congregational Church of Evanston, said.

During Lent’s 40 days of fasting and abstinence — between Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance, and Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus — faith organizations across the city host events to create a space for observance. 

According to Chris Murphy, pastoral associate at St. John XXIII Parish, the annual observance marks a time to pause and think.

“The whole period of Lent is trying to take a reflection and determine how better can I be of service to myself, my family, the community at large in terms of being a reflection of Christ’s love in the world,” Murphy said. 

St. John XXIII Parish, which encompasses St. Nicholas Church and St. Mary Church, organizes ReLent Groups for members to “‘unpack’ the Sunday Scripture readings more specifically,” according to its website.   

Murphy said the program allows members to strengthen their bonds with one another. 

“Getting to know people in a small group setting is attractive to people,” he said. 

Previous ReLent Groups have stayed together and taken on other community service projects beyond the Lent period, he added. 

For residents who would prefer non-English services, St. John XXIII Parish offers Spanish services at the St. Nicholas Church location and French services at the St. Mary Church location. Murphy said the French service, in particular, caters to Evanston’s Haitian community.  

Petersen said the First Congregational Church of Evanston has many ecumenical neighbors in the Raymond Park area. At 9 a.m. on April 2, many of them will come together for a Palm Sunday celebration for the beginning of Holy Week — the final week of Lent — she said. 

“There are several churches that come together to have a parade with a real live donkey,” Petersen said. “It’s a way to connect with other neighbors who are also celebrating that day.”

Outside of religious organizations, Evanston residents can commemorate Lent at local businesses.  

Throughout the Lenten season, the Evanston bakery Bennison’s Bakery is bringing a Swedish tradition to residents by offering semlor — cream buns traditionally used to celebrate Fat Tuesday.

“It’s a cardamom bun that’s cut open, and then we put some whipped cream and marzipan in the middle and top it with powdered sugar,” explained Joshua Abraham of Bennison’s, who said the bakery offers them yearly for Lent alongside hot cross buns. 

No matter how residents choose to commemorate Lent, inner reflection remains at the core of the observance, Petersen said. 

She added that Lent serves as an opportunity to forge deeper spiritual connections with themselves and share those experiences with others. 

“Lent traditionally is thought of as a reflective, inward time to think about ways that we might have taken a path that might not be as aligned with our values,” Peterson said, “as a time to come back toward love, justice and compassion in our lives.”

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