St. Paul to host joint Ash Wednesday service
nCongregation to worship with Columbia Presbyterian for seventh annual gathering. BY JOAN KERN, Correspondent
Two imposing stone churches with sky-high spires and glorious stained-glass windows stand almost side by side in Columbia.
But for years, the congregations at Columbia Presbyterian Church, 360 Locust St., and St. Paul Episcopal Church, 340 Locust St., went their separate ways.
That all changed when two new ministers arrived on the scene: the Rev. J. Patrick Peters at St. Paul in 2003 and the Rev. David C. Powers at Columbia Presbyterian in 2004.
The congregations at the historic churches will worship in their seventh annual joint Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. at St. Paul. Powers will preach on Joel 2: 1-2; 12-17, which includes, "Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."
A Solemn Choral Eucharist and the imposition of ashes will be observed.
"My people love it," Powers says. "At first I wondered how I would get Presbyterians to the rail to receive Communion and the ashes, which are not Presbyterian traditions."
But, he says, there is a liturgical renewal movement in some large suburban and urban Presbyterian churches.
"You will find high liturgy there," he says.
Powers says his congregation, which is moving toward a more blended, contemporary worship style, doesn't hold a Good Friday service.
"We go straight from Maundy Thursday to Easter."
Ash Wednesday isn't the only time the congregations get together. Columbia Presbyterian hosts an annual joint Thanksgiving service. They also worship together on Maundy Thursday, share breakfast and a procession of palms at St. Paul on Palm Sunday and offer vacation Bible school together.
"We work together on a multitude of things," Peters says.
"Historically, before either of us arrived, these churches did things together but then they drifted apart," Powers says. "We thought that was silly. Why should we do the same things and not work together?"
Peters, who had never been in a Presbyterian church until he came to Columbia, says part of the reason for the joint services is to bring together people of different traditions.
"While there are great similarities, there are also differences. It's eye-opening and educational and spiritual. … We learn together. We began to appreciate the differences in our traditions. We know people do things differently, but we don't always know why."
Peters said the Ash Wednesday service "will have all the smells and bells, full robes and vestments," explaining that St. Paul once moved away from high liturgy to distinguish itself from the Catholic Church, but has since moved back.
Powers notes that when he came to Columbia, about 40 percent of the population was Catholic. At that time, Columbia Presbyterian, also wanting to distinguish itself from the Catholic Church, celebrated the Lord's Supper just four times a year.
"It was all about being different and not being Catholic -- we're Protestant," he explains. "But as the church began to reclaim its real traditions, we began to reclaim the Lord's Supper, which we now have once a month."
Columbia Presbyterian, founded in 1807, has 90 members and an average Sunday attendance of 55, while St. Paul, founded in about 1848, has 110 members and an average Sunday attendance of 85. The churches are separated by a bank with a narrow parking lot in the rear. Columbia Presbyterian formerly owned the property, the site of a house, which it offered to sell to St. Paul.
"But somewhere in our wisdom we decided not to buy it," Peters says.
Peters also serves as president of the Columbia Ministerium, with 18 churches, which he says "work better together than any I've ever seen."
"It's unusual," he says. "No one tries to compete. This town is not like that at all. They have only one goal."
"Which is to take care of people," Powers says. "To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, to love God, to love our neighbors. That's the most important thing we do. All the churches in the Columbia Ministerium recognize that, regardless of their faith traditions."