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What does The United Methodist Church say about fasting?

Fasting has been a part of Methodism from it's early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting an important part of a Christian's life and he personally fasted weekly. To Wesley, fasting was an important way to express sorrow for sin and penitence for overindulgence in eating and drinking. He believed it benefited prayer life by allowing more time for prayer. He also felt fasting was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor. Wesley did advise caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile health. Visit John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life for more on John Wesley and fasting. 

The penitential season of Lent is a season of the Church year which commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction, in the Church, between fasting (limiting food to one full meal a day, with two smaller meals allowed) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat.) Abstinence from meat one day a week is a universal act of penitence. Visit the Upper Room's Ask Julian Web site for more information. It is important that you check with your physician before attempting a total fast (no food, water only) for more than 24 hrs.

Lent is a very personal time for individuals, so the United Methodist Church does not have official guidelines on how individuals should observe Lent.  For example, the church does not say everyone has to fast.  We may choose other ways of observing acts of penance, but we are not to neglect it, either - the value of self-denial can be learned early in a person's life. Lent provides an excellent opportunity to teach children the necessity of self-denial in our permissive society. A spirit of fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and going out with friends. We can give away clothing or possessions to those in need or we can give time to the Lord by volunteering our services or special prayers and devotions. Whenever possible we can pray more often alone or with family members. The article "Connecting Worship and Daily Living in Lent" by Rev. Dan Benedict offers many suggestions for personal Lenten practices.

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