Ashes to Go

People who come to church already get the forgiveness thing, but we go to the people at the train station going into a full day, to all the places where we fail and realize we are not perfect. Now they can start the day with a reminder that that is not the last word. ~ Rev Emily Mellott, author Ashes to Go

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that launches the liturgical season of Lent, the 40 days of prayer and repentance before Easter Sunday.

In spite of my wildly eclectic church background, my only church experience with Lent and ashes was during my 3 years in Oregon at the tiny Episcopal church. Somehow, somewhere, I’d gotten the idea that observing Lent was a cross between old school superstitions and New Years Resolutions. To the dear saints at St Matthews, it was something else altogether.

For 3 years, I spent one Wednesday in February with ashes on my forehead. Something radical has been happening all over the county since 2007. From bus stops to subway stations, from McDonald’s to Starbucks, you can find pastors and priest quietly talking to cabbies and consultants, to the weary and the seekers, giving Ashes to Go. The Church is bringing the church to the people.

For some, Lent is a time of prayer and fasting. For others, it’s a time to reconnect with God through revived resolutions. If you’re giving up something up for Lent, may God bless you with an increased sense of Him in whatever you choose to forgo.

For all of us, this could be the time we ask: What are we giving for Lent this year? Possibly more kindness, more compassion, more patience, more love, more hope, more grace? To all the places where we fail and realize we are not perfect, we can start the day with a reminder that that is not the last word.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

22 thoughts on “Ashes to Go”

  1. Thank you Deb for being one of those who brings the church out into the market place. Through your work I am drawn closer. For that I have nominated you for the “Readership Appreciation Award!” Hope you will accept.

  2. Hi Debbie… the availability of the fresh start, the new day, the second chance (and third, forth, fifth, etc) really is a far more important message of the gospel than what we typically hear or understand… or practice.

    Having grown up in what was termed, “Charismatic” christianity, with a proud emphasis on non-denominationalism and non-affiliation, I find many rituals of older faith structures refreshing from the ever so slightly condescending attitude of more modern structures.

    One church I attended years ago practiced a very traditional communion in advance of the regular service. All were welcome but it was attended mainly by people of deeper interest than the typical attender.

    The group grew to maybe 10. Quantity was not its outstanding feature. This was maybe 8 years ago but I remember it like yesterday. We stood in a circle and passed a cup for the wine/this is my blood portion. Yes, we drank from the same cup with only a slight wipe. I dont want to make issue of this practice in our germ-hypersenstive culture, I am just saying it happened.

    We also did a series of chants and responses. It was so out of the box, it was amazing! And all of this in a contemporary church with praise rock and a sandal-wearing Pastor.

    I also had a friend who was an ordained Pentecostal minister who felt very strongly that the his modern church experience lacked discipline in its worship. This was a man who ran a soup kitchen as the outworking of his faith. He didnt preach at the clientele, he just loved them, fed them, clothed them, and offered a hand any way he could help.

    I volounteered with him serving food and giving out free clothing for a number of weeks. Before we opened the doors, we would have short services together and often take communion. We got to the point where we started using a set of antique grails and plates for the communion. And the Pastor eventually began wearing a robe out of reverence for the ritual. He happily wore the nickname we gave him, “The Pente-Catholic”.

    Whats my point? My point is there is great value in many of the rituals of days and years gone by. At one point, I am sure they were practiced with deep conviction, even if many have become empty in their practice today. Certainly no all, but arguably many.

    Lent? Why not? Why not take a season and hyperfocus on repentance? We, including Christians, practice selfishness much of the rest of the year. Practicing a ritualistic Lent season complete with ash-marked foreheads seems like a nice balance to me.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.



    1. Chaz – We seem to have come from a similar place except I fear my heart was in a far worse state.
      I spent most of my adult life in what I now know was a ‘fundamentalist/independent Bible church’ that was entirely insular. We had no outreach in the community, no outreach period. The concern of the “body” was limited to the bodies within the walls.
      I started going there when I was 21 and didn’t leave until I was 47.
      There was, in the church and in me, “a proud emphasis on non-denominationalism and non-affiliation… (with an) ever so slightly condescending attitude of more modern structures.”
      When I left and went first to a Presbyterian church and later, after moving to Oregon, an Episcopal church, I was surprised to find both full of Christians!

      It seems incredible to me now, that I could have been so narrow. There was a great deal of emphasis on being submissive to the elders and very little on being submissive to the Holy Spirit. Actually, the Holy Spirit was almost never mentioned. We had more of a Duality God concept, than a Trinity since the church was afraid of charismatics, too. 😉
      The knee jerk reaction of discarding traditions, simply because they are traditions is a sad one.
      Why not Lent? Why not examine, as Deb said, what to give up and what to give?
      I agree with you, we are selfish, self-centered people – maybe this is just the right time for a change.
      Thanks for adding so much to this conversation, Chaz!

    1. Dear Linda – I feel as though I ‘discovered’ Lent for the first time 4 years ago.
      I started going to St Matthew’s in November and from the very beginning, everyone kept saying, ‘Just wait until Lent’ with such joyful anticipation! It was wonderful to worship with a group of people who were so passionate.
      On the learning curve, I’m way down toward the bottom, but loving every minute of learning. 😀
      Thank you for sharing with me, Linda.

  3. OK wise one … i’m joining the party because you’re so damn special! So there. I hate to be the party pooper, but the coolest thing about the ashes (to me, a Presbyterian who didn’t GET to do ashes) is the ashes. I always wanted to feel included in this ceremony. Between you and Jen i’m learning more about what Lent means. I like it! There is something magical about ceremony and community. Ashes sounds like a way to remember that there are lots of other folks out there who are in the “human club” and need some TLC, just like ourselves. Love mel, PS i hope you didn’t give up anything too good erm … 😉

    1. deal mel – Alone is so lonely. In this vast “human club”, we’re drawn together both by our need for TLC and our need for a God big enough to supply it. Together, we’ll continue to journey on in grace and seek what’s true, right?
      love and peace to you,

  4. We had a lovely service with the men discussing the significance of the practice and isn’t that what it’s always about? I’ve not heard of Ashes to Go but love taking the church to the people. I’m convinced that was the intention from the start. Thank you xo

    1. Dear Debby – Ashes to Go made me think instantly of you – except it would be Grace to Go. That’s what you do! You bring grace to the streets. Amazing and wonderful! And I’m with you, I think that was the intention from the start! Thank you kind friend.
      ~ Debbie

  5. Gracious one . . .this made me cry. I never practiced Lent, so am learning. Last night I asked Him to help me . . .and He is. There are some things I need to give up and some things I need to give. I am looking forward to this special time with Him, as He teaches me how to do both. love to you and many thanks! – the other deb

  6. Debbie ! I love Lent and I love the way I have come to understand the sacrifice. It is NOT sacrifice. It is looking at some thing you want to change in your life and deciding to make that change WITH GODS HELP. That is very different than the ‘rend your garments’ kind of thinking. I DO grow in faith during Lent because of my need to ask God for help and guidance.

    Our priest, always in trouble with the hierarchy, gave a beautiful homily today on the need to focus our attention during Lent on OTHERSBin need. He cited studies of the numbers of people homeless, unemployed, ill and alone. He talked about the historical reason for fasting: famine. Famine demanded that everyone sacrifice so the everyone, animals included, would survive. we are in that place now he said on a local and global level. We are. He is right

    He focused our parish on the need to be of use. There will be a film fest. Every weds a film about someone in need and how others reached out. Not documentaries but movies, it is a campus parish and I know that informs the way things are done. reaching young college students. Good idea. the church was filled with students today and tonight it would have been filled with families.

    lent of old still exists in most parishes. It does. But there are other ways of deepening our experience.

    Seems that parish hunting is much like meeting shopping: finding the right fit is key.

    Happy Lent to you my friend!

    XO Jen

    1. Jen – How wonderful that you have a priest who is tending to the hearts of young people and families and stirring them to care about those who don’t have a campus or even a home. The remembrance, dust to dust, for me is humbling and appropriate, but not garment rending, as you so well state.
      It reminds me that the One who made me, has also made a place for me when my tent it too tattered to move on.
      Grace and peace to you as you seek and serve, dear Jen,
      ~ Debbie

  7. Thanks for the post Debbie. My traditions growing up didn’t include Lent, but now I enjoy this period of time leading up to Resurrection Sunday to focus on the cross and what Jesus has done for me. God Bless, Mike

    1. Hello Mike! Welcome to TMG and thank you so much for commenting. A plus for me in these new traditions has been learning to value the richness of diversity. My friends at St Matt’s had a love for this season that I’d never experienced before.
      Grace and peace to you, Mike,

  8. Wonderful post, Debbie–I especially love the last lines. And how ’bout that–another coinkinkydink–I was baptised/confirmed Episcopal as a young teenager. Just part of my “eclectic” church experience–I loved ritual and liturgy, but I didn’t realize there was so much more to experience. It might be interesting to attend a service now to see if the ritual is “fuller” to me.

    1. Dear Caddo –
      We have reversed histories here.
      I was baptized as a Baptist, then baptized again as a Brethren, then baptized a third time as a Methodist (surely it took by the 3rd time). 😉
      Then I joined an Independent Bible Church, then was confirmed as a Presbyterian and finally became an Episcopal.
      Now, I’m nothing but saved by grace, since I work every day of the week, every week of the year.
      I developed an appreciation for ritual and liturgy via C.S Lewis and also during my extended stays at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey with a group of cloistered nuns.
      Sometimes hearing things new or things anew, changes the experience altogether. 😀
      ~ Debbie

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