Mormons, Supplementary Worship, and Ash Wednesday

By February 19, 2015

Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.

Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student. 

Ash Wednesday


I chose the United Methodist Church for several reasons, including proximity (it’s located across the street from campus), but also because my research focuses on early British and American Methodism and because some of my own ancestors were devout Methodists before converting to Mormonism in the 1840s. It was a wonderful experience and the perfect way to begin the Lentent fast. I learned later that afternoon that I am far from alone among Latter-day Saints interested in Lent. Popular online magazine LDS Living featured an article yesterday offering “6 Ways Mormons Can Enjoy the Spirit of Lent” (h/t: Jana Riess).

While there is several directions I could go with this topic, I found myself wondering last night about the origins of Mormon interest in and observance of Lent. Some Latter-day Saints seem to have been exposed to Lent in college or graduate school as the academic study of religion broadened their liturgical horizons; others appear to have returned to Lent as a way of reconnecting with the faith of their childhood and/or family; relatedly, others with parents, spouses, or children who are not LDS attend and observe Lent with their family members; and still others pick up the practice while living in countries with established churches, where observance of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and the like is widely observed by even decidedly non-church going citizens. Finally, the internet has surely played a role in introducing many Mormons to this part of the Christian liturgical calendar. If any or all of these anecdotal reasons are why Latter-day Saints are observing Lent to some degree or another, it seems to me that the practice is likely to increase, given the demographics of Mormonism today and the projected demographics moving forward.

This is where I open it up to you to share your experiences and weigh in:

Do you, as a Mormon, observe Lent?

If so, when did you begin to do so and why?

What does your observance include?

If you live in a nation with an established church (England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, El Salvador, Peru, Dominican Republic, Costa Rice, Poland, Paraguay, Greece, etc.), do any Latter-day Saints there observe Lent?

Article filed under British Isles Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Current Events International Mormonism Reflective Posts Ritual


  1. I observe Lent. This year I’m giving up donuts and energy drinks (although not Diet Coke). They’re good for me and the added spiritual component of fasting means a lot to me.

    Lent seemed to be somewhat en vogue during my last year in Provo (2012), which is the first year I tried.

    Comment by J Stuart — February 19, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

  2. Thanks, Joey. That’s really quite interesting – any idea why folks in Provo took to Lent?

    Comment by Christopher — February 19, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

  3. Interesting. Thanks for sharing. I am curious what the coming decades will bring for Mormon rituals and liturgy.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 19, 2015 @ 3:46 pm

  4. Thanks for this informative post, and for your kind words about the Mormon Lectionary Project! I’m obviously on board with what you’re doing here, so keep it up!

    Comment by Jason K. — February 19, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

  5. Thanks to my German grandmother, our family has held on to a few vestiges of the liturgical calendar (these traditions mostly revolved around food). It wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly observed Lent. I admit to a little holy envy for the smells and bells that many other liturgically oriented churches have, something that I find lacking in our very low church weekly services. I make an effort to attend services on Ash Wed, Good Friday and Easter vigil. This year I’ve given up soda and committed to praying the daily office. While my family might find this more than a little odd, I’ve found observing Lent to be a meaningful way to prepare me for Easter and draw closer to my Savior.

    Comment by Penny — February 19, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

  6. I started to observe Lent about 12 years ago. It rose out of discussions with a Catholic friend. I find it a useful tool to help me keep the sacramental covenant to “always remember him” I try to choose things the absence of which help me remember Christ. These vary year to year but nearly always include giving up caffeine.

    Comment by Sheldon — February 20, 2015 @ 10:22 am

  7. I think it arose from the desire to be different from other Mormons, which is both commendable and potentially problematic. Provo-it’s can quickly descend into hipster-doofusism in relation to everything, including religious practices. Rather than risk sounding too judgmental, I believe that it arose from a general desire to come closer to Christ–but the opportunity to be distinct probably factored in at some level.

    Comment by J Stuart — February 20, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

  8. Partly it was growing up in England and going to Anglican schools, although that doesn’t quite capture it. In fact, I have a feeling that Mormons in countries with established churches may be less inclined to follow the liturgical year as it represents the false “traditions of the fathers” they consciously eschew by being Mormon.

    Mostly for me it seems like a needed correction. After all, there will be no special Easter services in Mormon buildings this year as it is General Conference.

    Comment by Ronan — February 21, 2015 @ 2:03 am

  9. Although I’m more aware of it than most of my current ward out here in FL, I haven’t yet observed Lent. I really miss Evensong in London, and attend Mass every year around Christmas or Easter.

    Comment by Ben S — February 22, 2015 @ 7:55 pm

  10. J Stuart, great comment in #7. The desire to be different often motivates in strange ways among Mormons. I saw some really stupid stuff on my mission from Elders who lacked a strong enough self-identity that they couldn’t handle wearing what everyone else did.

    Comment by Ben S — February 22, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

  11. Austin, Daniel A., “Palm Sunday” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 159-166.

    I thought the story was awesome at the time and still do. Good going lone Ward in Medford.

    Comment by Terry H — February 23, 2015 @ 4:25 pm


Recent Comments

wvs on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Looking forward to this. Thanks J.”

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”