Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes to Go

Well, I have come a long way from the last few years, when I was snarky with my Catholic secretary for wanting to just nip in on the 11:00 service to get her ashes without going through all the work of earning them by sitting through the entire service, to this morning, standing on the sidewalk at 7 a.m. with ashes which we blessed right there in a brief form of the complete service, and then used them to sign anyone who came wanting this symbol of penitence and mortality.

Ashes to Go. I am a convert. People's intentions mean more to me, now, than the churches desire that they partake in worship fully.

It was chilly, and a breeze came up at about 7:20 that made my hands very cold. However, I was dressed for it otherwise, with a longsleeved heavy weight t-shirt under my clerical shirt and a flannel shirt over all, under my alb and stole. I mean to go out and buy a pair of gloves that I won't mind cutting the right thumb off of so I can do this again next year.

I had a helper, Jeff, who wheeled the heavy, metal "Grace Episcopal Church" sign from the church to our post in front of Dunkin' Donuts at 650 West Ave in Norwalk. I had cleared this with the manager of DD the week before. Jeff and I did an abbreviated form of the full service, and blessed the ashes we would be using. Almost immediately, the first person came up asking for ashes. Her face glowed. She left an offering!

We were there from 6:50 a.m. (we were early) until 8:00 a.m., at which time the Catholic church across the street was beginning its service in the church. During that time twelve people received ashes. And it felt as wonderful as if there had been 120. One woman stopped at the curb and rolled down her window. I received her assurance of penitence, assured her of forgiveness, and imposed ashes on her forehead. She had tears in her eyes.

I also blessed every vehicle that drove by on West Ave, which is pretty busy. Bus drivers waved, people in cars waved, garbage men waved, one man, I could see, crossed himself as I waved the sign of the cross toward him in his car.

If my hands hadn't been so cold, I would have wanted to stay out there. And at the same time, there was a fitness to ending at 8 a.m. leaving the rest to the Catholic church.

Nuts and bolts: I picked up a tip from the dean of the cathedral in Delaware when I was her curate, of having a little bit of olive oil on the edge of the ashes to rub my thumb in so the ashes would stick better. Outside, a couple of drops of jojoba oil in the lid of the tin in which I was holding the ashes, immediately congealed and it was perfect that way - only getting just enough on my thumb to pick up ashes that then stuck well on the forehead.

A brochure with prayers for the season of Lent, in English and Spanish, was our handout. It includes English, Spanish and bilingual services and other Lenten offerings.

Our inside services today are at 11:00 a.m. (English) and 6:00 p.m. (Spanish/English bilingual). I'm so tempted to go out from the 11:00 service and stand in front of the church where cars and buses and trucks come down the hill straight at us and turn right in front of the church. I'll take the ashes with me, and the Ashes To Go sign, just in case, and mostly I'll just keep signing the cross over all vehicles and love, love, love the privilege and the blessing of being able to do this.

May you have a challenging and blessed Lent, everyone. God bless you all.


Barbara said...

You're the BEST!!!

Anonymous said...


I am so proud of you for doing this. I am sitting at my desk smiling from ear to ear just reading this.

Thank you, Thank you so much for bring God's Kingdom outside of the Church building.


DeanB said...

There was an article about Ashes to Go in the Boston area on the front page of the second section of today's Boston Globe. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't seen your post. It reminds me of Chabad rabbis going around with sukkahmobiles so people can observe that holiday.

Lois Keen said...

Cool, DeanB, I like the idea of sukkahmobiles. Practical religion, I think I'll call it. Thanks.