In central Texas, where I grew up, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday made obvious the distinctions between how Catholics and Baptists practiced their faith.
Catholic friends came to school with ash smudges on their foreheads, ate a lot of fish, gave up various pleasures for a time, and went to extra church services. My Baptist friends and I did not. We wrongly considered this evidence that Catholics believed they had to do these things to be saved. We believed we were saved by grace and therefore didn't have to do any of that.
As a seminary student, I served as pastor of a small Baptist church in the same area. By this time I had discovered the Christian year and decided to lead the congregation to take up its observance. Advent went all right; four Sundays of anticipating Christmas didn't seem like such a bad thing. Having two Sundays in the season of Christmas seemed a bit odd, but explaining their connection to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" took care of that.
With Epiphany approaching, I knew I would have some explaining to do, so I gave an overview of the history and significance of all the seasons in the Christian year. My church members looked at me, as the local expression went, "life a calf looking at a new gate." One said, "Brother Steve, this is all very interesting, but we're not Catholic. We don't observe Lent."
Can Baptists observe Lent? ....
If you're interested in finding out how I answer that question, pick up a copy of the February issue of Christianity Today, now available at many newsstands and bookstores. Or wait awhile for it to appear online at the Christianity Today web site--I'll post a link here when that happens.
(The print edition includes this artist's sketch of my publicity photo, which my three-year-old son calls the "cartoon Daddy." Does that really look like me? I suppose I should thank the artist for straightening my teeth.)