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Ashes on the go

Ash Wednesday 1Ashes on the go isn’t going to go.

Bringing Ash Wednesday to the streets is a movement. More than 40 Episcopal parishes in 11 states in USA will take to the streets on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, marking the beginning of Lent with “Ashes to Go.”

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.’”

Ash Wednesday 2

Rev. Lane Hensley of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Illinois came out in the early morning to the commuter rail station and distributed ashes to commuters on their way to work.

Ash Wednesday 3Two other Chicago priests, the Rev. Emily Mellott, of Calvary Episcopal Church in Lombard, IL, and the Rev. George Smith of St. Mark’s in Glen Ellyn, had the same idea (independently of each other!) and acted on it.

Poke around the web and you find it here and here and here.

Not everyone thinks it is a good idea.

What do you think?

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7 Responses to Ashes on the go

  1. I, too, had mixed feelings about this when I first heard of it, two years ago. But last year, as a parishioner and I distributed ashes at the local commuter-rail station, and I became convinced that it is a very good thing to do this.

    Partly, because it really does accomplish what Bp Lee says it does: it brings the church invitingly out into the world, much of which feels pretty disinvited by the church. Partly also because it helps the Episcopal Church in some badly needed intentional “rebranding.”

    The Episcopal Church in the United States has pretty much two “brands,” two sets of associations that are likely to come to mind when one thinks of us:
    – snooty rich white people
    – jerks who fight over homosexuality.
    Which is to say:
    – people I don’t want to hang around with.

    Neither of these associations are all that accurate, not anymore. And we would generally prefer that there be other, more accurate associations that come to mind for most people, such as:
    – people who love me
    – people who love God
    Which is to say:
    – people I might want to hang around with.

    I am very much of two minds about offering sacraments to people who are not baptized — “Open Communion” and all that, which is intended to be welcoming and hospitable to strangers. Whether it succeeds in being welcoming is a good question, and one worth thinking about.

    But Ash Wednesday ashes isn’t a sacrament (though it is symbolic of Reconciliation), and it succeeds where Open Communion is likely to fail: be inviting the Other, unconditionally, into the mystery.

    Consequently, I very strongly suspect that initiatives like this just might help shift the prevalent popular “brand” of God from:
    – a person who hates me and who I hate;
    to:
    – a personality who loves and who I love.

    And THAT is all to the good.

    Dcn Scott Elliott,
    St Alban’s, Chicago
    Diocese of Chicago

  2. Wow! How wonderful. Bishop Blake of the OEC in the U.K. has also brought Communion out onto the streets. I just love this! These are the actions Jesus would have taken! Bravo. Amen.

  3. Mixed reactions. I am very much for the missional attitude of the church going out. And I am sensitive to the needs of folks in our culture where Ash Wednesday is just another work day. (as an aside, I offered a 6:30 am service for our folks, but it was fairly unanimous that no one would attend – we are having our service at 7pm).

    But I am hesitant when the words simply allude to dust. Or that the sign is not accompanied with an actual desire for repentance. I prefer “Turn away from sun and be faithful to the Gospel.” All with a clear tie to the faith response of the sign of ashes.

    Still, the biblical story of Jonah comes to mind where the whole city put on ashes which would seem to say the sign of ashes can and should indeed go far and wide.

    Maybe I will carry my ash pyx about my day Wednesday and see what happens (especially at my bivocational employment).

  4. When I first head of this practice, I was in favour of it. Now, with the bad press Christianity is getting thanks to the nuts in the Republican party, I think this practice is even “greater.” I wish my rector would do this.

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