What Does The Methodist Church Say About Fasting at Lent?

Fasting has been a part of Methodism from our early beginnings. John Wesley considered fasting to be 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 allowed more time for prayer and was more meaningful if combined with giving to the poor. Wesley did advise caution against extreme fasting and against fasting for those in fragile or poor 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, in the Church there is a distinction between a total fast (no food at all, only water), 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. It is important that you check with your physician before attempting a total fast for more than 24 hours.

Lent is a very personal time, so The United Methodist Church does not have official guidelines on how individuals should observe Lent via a fast or in any other way. Some choose to give up a certain food, however a spirit of fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and spending time on the computer. We can give away clothing or possessions to those in need, give our time by volunteering or we can pray more often alone or with family members.