Amy Showalter browsed through possible Lenten themes for her online devotion. Bypassing "Wisdom and Utter Foolishness," "Exposure to Light" and "What is in Store," she finally settled on "Waiting Paired with Practice," which included the scripture passage of Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16.
According to Showalter, a senior, "It was a good spiritual discipline to see how my story might align to the text and allow people to understand their own faith journeys."
Goshen College faculty, staff and students contribute devotions every weekday during the 40 days of Lent. These personal accounts – each linked to a daily theme – are used to celebrate and connect to Lent, a season of prayer, penitence and self-denial in the Christian calendar. The overall theme this year is "Our lives are in your hands..."
Now in its ninth year, the online Lenten devotions are growing in popularity on campus and across the country. Google lists the college as the third entry with a search for "Lenten devotions." Anyone can subscribe to receive the daily reflections; as of March 9, the blog had received 7,895 subscribers, up from 1,005 in the first week of Lent this year.
Goshen College was the first – and for a while the only – Mennonite college to do this. This year, Eastern Mennonite University created a Lenten blog as well.
According to Jodi Beyeler, news bureau director and writer for public relations, fewer than 1,000 people subscribed when the devotional blog debuted. The audience is growing in part because of word-of-mouth marketing, church bulletin notices and advertising through Facebook and Sojourners online newsletters (which have about 200,000 subscribers).
Beyeler said that those from all walks of faith have e-mailed in, including Catholic nuns, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, giving their thanks for the insight and opportunity to read the devotions.
Readers can comment on each writer's reflections, and often do. Showalter's devotion received 14 responses online, with the most personal one from her home church pastor in Harrisonburg, Va. It read:
"Amy - this is a lovely reflection on both the season of Lent and the text. Though I can't claim to have shaped you, as your pastor in Harrisonburg, I want to say, 'I'm proud of you', and to ask your permission to possibly use some of what you have said in this Sunday's sermon on that text. Let me know."