I didn’t want to like it. The whole idea sounded a little contrived to me. I had read about people setting up Ash Wednesday ashes on a street corner, but didn’t like the idea of something rushed, outside of the atmosphere of worship. I got talked into it by an enthusiastic colleague. (And probably the Holy Spirit.) And I’m grateful!
This will be the third year we will do Ashes to Go on Ash Wednesday morning. All we do is set up a small station in the parking lot, and have a couple signs along the road inviting people to us during two hours of morning traffic. People drive up, and roll down their car window. We have a very brief written liturgy and schedule of Lent/Easter services we give them (though this isn’t necessary). We pray together, and place ashes on their forehead with the same words we use in our worship services. What I now love about it is the holy and personal encounter there through the car window. It’s very intimate. To pray with someone in the middle of their morning routine, face to face close up, is a powerful thing.
We’ve had people in their medical scrubs drive through. They work a long shift and can’t get to a regular Ash Wednesday service. Moms dropping off after preschool drive through, some with young babies in the car, and we pray with and for them too. We’ve had people who are members, and people who are not. Some haven’t been to church in a very long time, but they remember Ash Wednesday, and they need some prayer.
If the church of the future is less about expecting people to show up in our buildings at appointed times, and more about meeting them where they are, then Ashes to Go feels like a great place to be the church. I wonder where else God might be calling us to take worship and witness outside the building?
Julie Hester is Associate Pastor for Children and their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. She works with the APCE Advocate Ministry Team.