Episcopal churches to take Ash Wednesday services into the streets

By Jim Naughton
Posted Feb 16, 2012

[Canticle Communications] More than 40 Episcopal parishes in 11 states will take to the streets on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, marking the beginning of the holy season of Lent by giving “Ashes to Go.”

In Chicago, St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Newark, Erie, Austin and other cities and suburbs around the country, priests and lay people will visit train stations, subway stops, coffee shops, and street corners to mark the forehead of interested passers-by with the sign of the cross, and invite them to repent of their past wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and renewal.

“Ashes to Go is about bringing spirit, belief, and belonging out from behind church doors, and into the places where we go every day,” said the Rev. Emily Mellott, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Lombard, Illinois, who is organizing the initiative in the Diocese of Chicago, where more than 20 churches are expected to participate. “It’s a simple event with deep meaning, drawing on centuries of tradition and worship to provide a contemporary moment of grace.”

Mellott learned about Ashes to Go from the Rev. Teresa K. M. Danieley, of St. John’s Episcopal Church, St. Louis, Missouri, who began conducting a street corner service with the distribution of ashes in 2007.

“On the street corner, we encounter people who have been hurt by previous experiences with organized religion and who, through Ashes to Go, take a tentative step back towards attending church,” Danieley says.

Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeff Lee is an enthusiastic supporter of marking Ash Wednesday in the streets. “My most memorable experience last year was with a woman who told me that she had left the church years ago,” he says. “She received the ashes and our prayers gratefully and then she looked up and with tears in her eyes, she said to me, ‘I just can’t believe you would bring the church out here to us.’“


Comments (9)

  1. Sharon Klein says:

    What a great idea! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to participate this year, but if it is outside I just might be able to do it.

  2. scott murray says:

    If you were truly “bringing spirit, belief, and belonging out from behind church doors, and into the places where we go every day”, your very presence would be an Ash Wednesday experience. “Ashes to Go?” You are Christ’s representative. Give them yourself as Jesus gave himself. Can we not be Christ to our world without gimmicky liturgical services? Live the forgiveness you want the world to experience.

  3. Joseph Frana says:

    Gimmicky? Maybe. But such concrete and symbolic actions are the way that we communicate something larger than ourselves. I have serious doubt that we could be Christ to our world in a way identifiably so without liturgical services.

  4. Sharon Ely Pearson says:

    The clergy of St. Matthew’s in Wilton, CT has been doing this for years . . . hanging out in Wilton Center and near the train station (commuter line into NYC). Many of our members commute into the city and aren’t back in town for our 11AM, 5PM or 7:30PM Ash Wednesday service.

  5. Mike Losinger says:

    My sadness in this is how many cannot imagine or see themselves in this ministry of presence; it seems like such a simple but generous act. I suspect our diminished sense of hospitality in God’s spirit is rearing its ugly head again. Thanks, Ash-people!

  6. Fr John Bunyan says:

    What a great way of bringing the Church and its Gospel in touch with people and people in touch with the Church and of putting more meaning back into Ash Wednesday. I hope we’ll do this here in our hospital (here in Sydney, Australia) next Ash Wednesday and I hope to tell others of this fine example of outreach.
    Thank you.

  7. Margaret Ayers says:

    Thank you for such a great idea. I read the comment about this being “gimmicky” but the people who stopped yesterday at our stop did not think it was anything like that. We have about 4200 temporary workers in our community working 10-12 hour shifts doing an upgrade at a plant. They do not know the area and some who stopped were so relieved to be able to participate in a practice that has deep meaning to them. I cannot even put into words what it has meant to me to have participated in this ministry.

  8. David Rickey says:

    For decades I have been amazed at the long lines for ashes on Ash Wednesday. Clearly there is a desire for this act of penance. But I have never seen it translate into ongoing repentance or church involvement. To me it seems like an end in itself. “I got the Ashes on my forehead. I’m done.”

  9. Daniel Velez Rivera says:

    St. Gabriel’s, St. James and St. David’s in Leesburg and Ashburn, VA are collaborating in order to cover a large range of public places in our communities to give ashes this year. We will be at the local Park and Ride depots, Loudoun hospital, outside Starbucks and Panera, outside supermarkets, and yes at the location where day laborers wait for work every day! Christ sent us out two X two (and then some). Loudoun County, VA is giving Ashes to Go!
    Alleluia (not Lent yet, I can still go there).

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