On a cold and windy day in EDSD, hundreds of people were offered a moment to interact with God–on a street corner, at a bus stop, on a tuft of grass between classes. Churches throughout the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego hit the streets on Ash Wednesday to remind people of our humanity and the love of Jesus Christ.
In City Heights, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church fanned out across the neighborhood for their 9th year of Ashes to Go. Thérèse Carmona said, “We made our way to the busy intersection of University & Fairmount Avenues with their adjacent businesses, stores, offices, and non-profit agencies. There, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the early morning, sacred and grace-filled moments happened again and again.”
Among them was a teacher at a Head Start school. Her eyes lit up when she saw the St. Mark’s group, paused her entryway duties, and received ashes. In a moment of realization, she asked them to wait and went to find her colleague, who wanted ashes as well.
In Ramona, the Rev. Hannah Wilder and Cindy Dodson dodged passing hail to meet people where they are. Rev. Hannah said, “Most people asked, ‘What’s that?’’’ But at least now they had exposure to Ash Wednesday. It’s fun planting seeds. It’s exciting to see where God is working in Ramona.”
Agape House, the Episcopal-Lutheran joint Campus Ministry at San Diego State University, offers students free pizza and a place to relax every Wednesday, but this Wednesday, it wasn’t just the hungry coming to say hello. Students would jog over to hug the Rev. Heather Lawerence–congratulating her on the recent ordination and asking for ashes.
Rev. Heather said, “We connected and prayed with a student for the first time who was raised going to an Episcopal school.” A meeting in experience in an ordinary place that suddenly became a space to interact with the Holy.
St. Paul’s Cathedral sent teams throughout the city to distribute ashes to hundreds. Undeterred by hail, wind, and cold temperatures, the Cathedral’s Ashes to Go teams provided a moment of the sacred to 100s of people in public.
Martin Nace Hall said, “Ashes to go is one of the most rewarding experiences of the year. So many reminders that our neighbors outside the walls of the church need God and desire prayer. God is Good.”
To many, Ashes to Go might seem like a shortcut to a holy lenten service–a fast food, immediate gratification option for something that can be difficult. But I do not believe that we are in the business of putting up holy barriers to the sacred. We’re called to welcome, host, and introduce people to the God of reconciliation, justice, and love.
In The New Parish, Paul Sparks writes, “Mission is defined as what you do to join in God’s world-renewing project.” Going out into the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ is our mission.
Let’s be the church that goes to parents with their children, to folks at bus stops, to motorists at restaurants and drive-throughs so that they can pause and reverently bow their heads–maybe folding their hands or holding a steady gaze as they receive the ashes and listen to the words: ‘Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’ Let’s be the church that goes out into the world to show people the love and care of Jesus Christ.
“However brief and fleeting these encounters are, they are moments of human connection, of standing in God’s presence, of reminding us that as Lent begins, we get yet another chance to turn our lives to God now, for our time on earth is but brief,” said Carmona.
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One reply to “Ashes to Go 2023”
Great article, Chris! Appreciated the various comments of those involved in this special experience. Really helps us to look for the holy spirit in perhaps unlikely places.