Chapel Hill: Community

Faith: Ash Wednesday reminds Christians of their mortality

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent in Christian churches.

Across the area, Christians will take part in special services, some of which will offer the Imposition of Ashes and in some cases, Holy Communion.

In these services, the officiating minister will use ashes to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of worshipers in a ritual that calls for repentance in preparation for the Lenten season and the resurrection of Jesus.

The words of the liturgy are found in the opening epic of the human story: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” As early as the 10th century ashes were used to visually remind worshipers of their mortality as they began their Lenten watch by the cross.

The juxtaposition of Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras with its excessive eating, drinking and revelry, comes to a jolting halt when Christians hear the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. This is a reminder to all who may be a bit strung out after all that partying, that even though revelry has its place in life, there also will be a time for death.

During Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday on April 20, Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

As someone has said, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, in all probability he would be considered just another great teacher who was a flash in the pan for a time, but whose life and teachings were no more important that any of the other great teachers in the history of the world.

Not so. Instead, Jesus, the man Christians believe was the son of God, rose from the dead on the third day and his life and teachings have dramatically influenced all facets of life and culture across the world.

What else would you expect from the son of God.

Mental health workshop

Faith Connections on Mental Health is presenting a day-long workshop to help faith communities engage, encourage and serve persons who suffer from mental illness and those who care for them.

Clergy, lay leaders, individuals and professionals are invited to attend.

“Connecting Faith Resources with Mental Health” is set for March 28 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 940 Carmichael St.

Registration fee is $25 per person until the deadline on Friday and thereafter it is $35. CEUs are optional for an additional $20. Register online at or call 919-942-6227 for a registration form.

Keynote speaker is Dr. Harold Koenig, noted mental health expert, author, psychiatrist and Duke University Medical Center professor.

Also speaking and participating in a panel discussion on spirituality and mental health care is Dr. Warren Kinghorn, assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke Medical Center and of pastoral and moral theology at Duke Divinity School.

Tonya Armstrong, Ph.D., will speak on “Establishing an Effective Congregational Mental Health Ministry.”

Faith Connections on Mental Health is an inter-faith coalition of faith communities whose mission is to work with all faith communities to welcome, include, support, educate and advocate for individuals and families who are living with mental illness.

Fighting the stigma associated with mental illness along with isolation and rejection are what this inter-faith organization is all about, says Kim McCahan Batson of Chapel Hill.

“One of the most cherished benefits of being part of a faith community is the comfort offered in times of illness, stress and sorrow,” she said. “Too often, that support seems to mysteriously vanish when the illness is mental rather than physical in origin.”

Area churches have responded in a positive way to assistance from the Faith Connections organization.

“There are many ways a faith group can support the goals of Faith Connections,” said Dorothy Smith of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Durham.

“Our group offers space for a support group for parents of children who are living with the very difficult and painful manifestations of brain or mood disorders.”

Beth Gove of Chapel Hill Bible Church says her connection to Faith Connections has been helpful in learning about the pervasive needs related to mental health issues.

“Hearing what other churches are doing has encouraged me to pursue support for those within my own church and informed me about resources available within out community.”

Batson said that last year Faith Connections inspired her to volunteer to explore what a mental health ministry would look like in the parish at Episcopal Church of the Holy Family.

“We started one with a bang last year by participating in the church's first NAMI Walk. Ten walkers raised over $900 in donations,” she said.

Blacknall and Westminster Presbyterian churches in Durham and University Presbyterian in Chapel Hill are conference sponsors.

‘Choosing Africa’

Susan Bauer, author of “Choosing Africa,” will read from and discuss her book on Sunday at a meeting of the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church Book Club.

Her book is a narrative of the three years the Bauers spent as faculty members of a seminary in Windhoek, Namibia, and as occasional tourists in this African county of multiple cultures and immense natural beauty.

The 7 p.m. event to be held in the church's education wing will end with a reception and informal conversation with the author.

The public is welcome.

Contact Flo Johnston at or 910-361-4135.