BRIGHTON, N.Y. — Christians in Western New York and around the world Wednesday observed a day of prayer and fasting. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. But in many places, the pandemic has changed the way it’s observed.

The past year has often been a test of faith — which is why Pastor Gail Swanson waited patiently in a parking lot at Atonement Lutheran Church in Brighton.

“You know, ministry is person to person,” said Swanson. “It's about the value of each person that you connect with, and then connect to God with.”

But connection, in a pandemic — is hard to do.

“It’s been a task for all of us,” she said.

Sometimes it takes something different. At Atonement Lutheran Church, Ash Wednesday services are usually held inside. This year, Pastor Gail delivered ashes — to go. Church members drove to the church, and stayed in their cars while a masked Swanson presented the ashes.

“The idea of moving either into the community where people are absent from a church building, or in this time of COVID, outside the church building for the imposition of ashes, has really come to light and become a bit more popular,” she said. “It's our first year doing it.”

In a holy time of prayer and fasting, it's already been a year of sacrifice, and struggle.

“It's a different feeling,” said Jean Seaver, a church member from Webster. “Yes, it has some stress attached to it but I think we can all get through this if we work together to do it.”

Though it’s tested faith, the pandemic has also brought reflection for many on what truly matters. Strength in faith, as a holy season begins.

“God's with us,” said Seaver. “And all of this, I just know, he will carry us through it.”