Saturday, February 24, 2007

Town Gives a Pound of Flesh for Lent

AP--The town of Rosedale, Missouri is making plans to observe the most holy Lent anyone here can remember. All 204 citizens of this town in the southeastern part of the state have agreed to follow a series of strict spiritual disciplines for the 40 day period that precedes Easter.

The town’s ministerial association, composed of a Roman Catholic priest, a retired Lutheran pastor and a Methodist minister, developed the guidelines and presented them to the aldermen, suggesting that everyone participate. In addition to typical Lenten practices, such as fasting on Fridays, giving up a favorite food, and adding extra time for prayer and reading the Bible, there are some unusual items on the list.

Instead of the typical “howdy,” townspeople in Rosedale will now be greeting one another with the words “repent and believe the gospel.” Residents have agreed to use no heat in their homes during Lent, quite a feat, since the low temperatures this time of year average in the high 30s. Also, the four businesses on Main Street will close on both Sundays and Wednesdays so the churches can hold all-day prayer sessions.

The most bizarre practice, however, will be a ritual self-mortification in the town square carried on for 24 hours a day. At every hour during Lent, members of the town will take turns standing on a platform striking themselves with a leather whip while their bodies are nearly completely bared to the elements.

Roger Hammond, a Rosedale resident for his entire 62 years, signed up for 12 different one-hour sessions. “This is a way of atoning for the sins of the entire town. We’re a wicked people. If Jesus could give his very life for our sins, then why can’t we give at least a little bit of flesh? We present our bodies as living sacrifices, thanksgiving offerings to God,” he said.

Not everyone thinks the town’s wholehearted effort at returning to God is a good idea. William Forrest is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Rosedale, and the only clergyperson in town who is not a member of the ministerial association. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “It is one thing to observe private practices, but quite another to have an entire town up in arms. The only reason I’m participating is that half my members said they’d go over to the Methodists if I didn’t.” Forrest has only signed up for three self-mortification shifts.

Many expect the high point of the season to be the Jonah Party on March 30, the Saturday before Palm Sunday. People will gather before dawn, some leading cows and horses. Everyone, people and animals, will be wearing sackcloth. They will then take turns pouring ashes over one another’s heads.

As the sun rises, the procession will walk the six miles to Centerburg, the county seat. The people will stroll through the streets calling out, in the words of the Old Testament prophet Jonah, “Forty days more, and Centerburg shall be overthrown!” Then, the group will retire to a nearby hill to watch what happens.

Julie Teasdale, owner and proprietor of Ye Olde Antique Shoppe in Rosedale, is eager for the Jonah Party to begin. “I’m so thrilled about this opportunity. I’m bringing my camera.”

Despite the busy Lenten schedule, most residents of Rosedale are not making many plans for Easter. “I’ll probably sleep in,” said Teasdale.

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