Lent, the 40-day period of reflection, repentance, and sacrifice preceding Easter, begins next week for most Christians with Ash Wednesday. Before entering that somber season, however, there is time for fun and festivities.
As a spiritual person, there s a balance in life that includes feasting as well as fasting knowing how to celebrate as well as turn inward and reflect, said the Rev. Ed Heilman, pastor of Park Congregational United Church of Christ.
His South Toledo church will be celebrating tomorrow when it hosts its annual Mardi Gras Service at 10 a.m., with music provided by Ragtime Rick s Ecumenical Jazz Band.
A feast will follow the service, with Park Congregational cooking a lunch with such Mardi Gras favorites as jambalaya, red beans and rice, and shrimp etouffee on the menu (adults $10, students and seniors $8, and children age 5-10, $4).
Band leader Ragtime Rick Grafing, a Dixieland jazz proponent, said he plays at church services of various denominations and finds them to be a good fit for his music.
From the very origins, the very beginning of jazz, hymns were part of the repertoire, Mr. Grafing said.
A hundred years ago, most of the musicians from New Orleans, where Dixieland jazz began and flourished, learned to play by ear or by picking up tips from other musicians.
Well-rounded musicians had to be able to play the blues, ragtime, the popular songs of the day, and hymns, Mr. Grafing said.
Today s ragtime and Dixieland bands keep the tradition going.
Every good jazz band has a certain number of hymns in their repertoire. It s just that you usually don t play a whole program of hymns, he said. It s only when we play a church service that we play all the hymns in our repertoire, citing such favorites as The Old Rugged Cross, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and I Love To Tell the Story.
Mr. Grafing said he first started playing at church services about 16 years ago when he was invited to play at St. Mark s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green.
It was a Sunday morning service in a college town in the middle of summer, he said.
The church was hoping to get 100 people for the Dixieland jazz service and 150 showed up. The next year, they had a crowd of 250. The Dixieland jazz service has continued every summer at St. Mark s and has drawn as many as 700 people, Mr. Grafing said.
He has performed at churches of various denominations including Roman Catholic, United Methodist, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
It was during a concert at Grace Lutheran Church on Monroe Street that the pastor, the Rev. Merlin Jacobs, suggested Mr. Grafing add the word Ecumenical to the name of Ragtime Rick s Jazz Band.
The first time his Dixieland band plays at a church service, most of the people are enthusiastic but there are a handful of naysayers who don t know if this was a good idea, Mr. Grafing said.
The congregations know these hymns, they re just not used to singingt them in four-quarter time and syncopated. But it works, and once you lead them through the first chorus, they get into it, he said.
For most of the world s 2 billion Christians, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, also called the Day of Ashes. Clerics use ashes to make the sign of the cross on believers foreheads as a reminder of their mortality, reciting a prayer that says, in various wordings, Remember, O man, that you are dust; and unto dust you shall return.
Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, falls on April 12 this year.
For the world s 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lent and Easter will be observed one week after western Christianity.