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Wandera of St. Michael explains customs of Lent

By Richard Rourk

St. Michael the Archangel in Erwin is poised to observe a busy Lent season, which returned this year on  Wednesday, Feb. 17.

According to the Rev. Deacon Kenneth Wandera, the term Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring.

“It calls to mind the new life, growth, hope and change that should characterize this time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, this season of initiation into the grace life of the church,” Wandera explained.

Wandera noted that the next 40 days are a reminder of God’s Grace. “In these 40 days, mother church vests herself simply in violet,” Wandera said. “Her sacred halls are bare and much of her gracious music is muted. 

“Flowers at her alters and shrines are set aside, and at the end of the season, the lamps will be extinguished, the bells will fall silent and her alters will be stripped,” he continued. “But this is her true springtime, when her children grow in grace, in ways often imperceptible, subtle and varied. 

“Lent, therefore, reminds us that the great graces are given by God, not when our senses perceive them or when our hearts are full of consolations, but in the silence and the stillness of the night,” Wandera concluded.

According to Wandera, the 40 days of Lent kicked off Feb. 17. That date was Ash Wednesday, which Wandera explained marks the beginning of this holy season. “It is characterized by the blessing of ashes during mass,” he said.

Like so many things recently, St. Michael’s has had to adjust to the pandemic. 

“Unlike as has always been the custom, at least in this part of the world, to smear one’s forehead with ashes, forming a cross, visible for everyone to see, this year due to COVID, mother church asked that we sprinkle ashes on top of one’s head,” Wandera told The Erwin Record.

Erwin Record Photo by Richard Rourk / The Rev. Deacon Kenneth Wandera is shown sprinkling ashes during a service at St. Michael.

“The sprinkling of ashes, instead of the cross on the forehead, goes way back to the early Christians,” Wandera said. “Ashes on the forehead were a later development as evident in most of the English-speaking countries. Most of Italy has always preferred sprinkling ashes rather than the cross on the forehead. Again, this way of receiving ashes underscores the importance of Lent, not so much an outward sign that people should see but rather inner conversion. Ashes signify our penance and the fact that we are dust.”

Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent are considered meatless days, which is one reason there will be a Fish Fry at Saint Michael’s every Friday during Lent. 

“We abstain from meat, this in a way is in keeping with the history when meat was considered expensive and only wealthy families could afford meat,” Wandera said. “Fish was cheaper.”

Wandera said that the history of abstaining from meat resonates with him because of his memories growing up in Kenya.

“We only ate meat once a year because it was expensive,” he said. “The emphasis here can be multifaceted, but I would personally note here that the willingness for us to forego something expensive or a delicacy of sorts so that we can be in solidarity with those who can’t live like us is profound. 

“We choose to live in a way that allows others to live,” he continued. One of the pillars of Lent is almsgiving and one way we keep in solidarity is to share the proceeds that we have received with others, and one way of doing that is denying ourselves something so that others can have it.”

According to Wandera, meatless Fridays also remind believers of the suffering flesh of Jesus. “We honor Jesus’ pain by denying ourselves something that seems to appeal to senses and our appetites, as that steak,” Wandera said.

St. Michael’s continued to grow throughout the pandemic and the church is now in need of more space. 

“We are grateful to God for the many people that God continues to call to be members of our Catholic Community,” Wandera said. “We are now in need of more space for the growing numbers, especially of our children. With social distancing these days, there is no better time to add a class or two for our faith classes, than this. 

“We pray that men and women of goodwill out there will help us realize this vision for more room,” he added. “We thank everyone in Unicoi County for their support. We remember with gratitude how people responded when Covid hit our tomato farmers out on the farm. The great people of this county remain true to what they believe is the best thing to do — helping those in need.”

According to Wandera, the support was overwhelming.

He also noted that the needs are great in the community. “St. Michael had a wonderful opportunity to host a food drive where residents of the county were able to pick some fresh products,” Wandera said. “This was made possible through the Catholic Charities of East Tennessee in collaboration with the Farmers to Families program. 

“We were only delivering what we had received from generous hearts,” Wandera continued. “We thank those who gave and we are grateful for those who came to share the food with us. We pray for a better year full of hope and joy, for that is what God has called us to be.”

Unfortunately due to inclement weather last week, St. Michael’s was unable to have its first fish fry of the season. 

“This Friday, we will have our first fish fry,” Wandera said. “Call ahead, come and pick up only,  in a drive-through fashion.”

Dinners will include three large pieces of catfish with homemade tartar sauce, baked potato, green beans, coleslaw and a home-baked dessert, all for $10. 

Dinners will be served from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and can be pre-ordered at (423) 257-5096 by phone or text. Pickup will take place at the pavilion at 657 N. Mohawk Drive, Erwin.

For more information about services and upcoming events, visit