Episcopal churches are marking the start of Lent by taking Ash Wednesday to American streets. Photo: Jennifer Balaska
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 and Austin, as well as 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 foreheads of interested passersby 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, Ill., 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, Mo., 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 said.
The diocese of Chicago’s 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.’ "