Episcopal evangelism: Ashes to Go gains momentum

Ashes To Go seems to be gaining momentum, doesn't it? I confess that I started this Ash Wednesday dubious about this increasingly popular Episcopalian phenomenon, thinking haughtily that it's important that people make a personal commitment to cross the threshold of a church, a sacred space, just like I do, to repent of their sins and begin this holy season.

But throughout this day, I've come to embrace the way Episcopalians have hit the streets (kind of like the Baha'i used to do with their roses at airports, remember?) to share our faith, some smudgy dust, a bit of Scripture, to help others begin to grasp the beauty of Lent, and ultimately, the life-altering promise that Christianity offers.

This video, shot last year, explains the reasoning behind this well. And here's a report about how Ashes to Go went today on the streets of Philadelphia. And a great photo roundup of Bishop Mariann Budde and Fr. Nathan Humphrey smudging the foreheads of commuters in Washington, D.C. And an inspiring story from the Charlotte Observer.

Comments (9)

More thoughts on Ashes to Go by David Andrew Creech Ashes on the go. I don't get it. At all.

Having loved Ashes to Go so much, I am now wondering how we might take Easter to the streets - what would Easter to Go look like? What symbolic act, what touch, do we have to give away? Maybe anointing for healing? Sprinkling with water? What?

We had the church open all day for drop ins and went to the local coffee place/bakery in our cassocks. Some from our congregation were there and said - thanks for the reminder - I plan to come. Not quite ashes to go tho we had some just in case --but good. A mother stopped by the church with her daughter and I was able to explain a bit about what we were doing in kid language.

I think the question is, are you reaching people who will use this to bypass going to church? or are you reaching people who otherwise won't get to church, who may feel abandoned, estranged, or otherwise in need?

Frankly, I think it's more likely to be the latter. My wife did this today and had at least one person tell her, cheerfully "no thanks, we're going to Mass later!" But others were clearly so grateful to be offered the chance to connect, to ask for a prayer. Sure, you won't see them tonight. But you might see them later on. After all, if the church comes out to look for them....to start the conversation...don't you think they are more likely to consider coming inside next time?

One recipient (quoted on the local paper's photo essay): " I needed a blessing so bad, I've been looking for work and I'm homeless and I just needed a blessing and anytime I can get a blessing and feel the father's presence, I'm okay, it just makes me feel better that somebody cares, you know?"

How can that be a bad thing?

More from San Diego's St Paul's Cathedral (includes photos and links)

--Susan Forsburg

I've got no problem with Ashes to Go. That being said, I actually WENT to a church today, one that was new to me since I happened to be in the neighborhood for a meeting, and NO ONE, including the priest, made an effort to greet me in any way. Later on Twitter, @RevTeapot reported "Took the little Teapots to local #AshWednesday service. *THREE* successive people asked us to move so they could sit in 'their' seat."

I guess I fear that Ashes to Go makes us feel good about reaching out when, as Bishop Dan pointed out, we have some real problems in being even moderately friendly to the people who come in our own doors.

I realize it's not an either/or, but what's going to happen to any of these people who were met on the street if and when they actually walk into an Episcopal Church? We have GOT to do a better job in basic hospitality.

Yes, I'm still peeved.

Laura Toepfer

I had double bypass surgery back on 15 JAN. I am now a Type 2 diabetic taking 2 forms of daily insulin. And I am now involved in Cardiac Rehabilitation in a clinic where we are constantly monitored as we develop our "new" hearts with an exercise regimen. (Some literally as we have a few transplant patients among us.)

As I walked into the hospital entrance today a glimpsed a few smudges on foreheads and remembered that today was Ash Wednesday. It had slipped my mind. I new that the all faiths chapel was just around the corner from the elevators that would take me to the Rehab Lab, so I peeked in to see and sure enough they had Ashes 2 Go. Two brief sentences and I too had a smudge. (A bit larger than makes me comfortable.) I was reminded of Ash Wednesday all day as my smudge evoked questions or reminded others of the day. Ashes 2 Go, I think it's a good thing!

I also read Christchurch, NZ's Father Bosco's excellent Ash Wednesday meditation on my iPad as I walked my 20 minutes on the treadmill.

Bro David

Another photo story, Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/ash-wednesday-at-union-station/2013/02/13/2a5e8162-761b-11e2-95e4-6148e45d7adb_gallery.html?hpid=z2#photo=1

I've never done this, though it appears possible that Sara Miles and some Diocese of California clergy launched it those few years back at Mission and 24th BART Station. So, going to church for ashes myself this evening, I'm very moved at these photos of my son, also a priest, giving ashes to strangers in Union Station, DC.

Laura: such a shame at what happened. I had a Noon service in the church, before going outside at 1pm. I said to those at Noon how thankful I was with their presence in church, and shared what I was going to do with Ashes to Go (including the invite to connect with a community of faith). At the 7pm, in addition to thanking, I shared the experiences of some of my encounters with strangers. I think the experience of giving "Ashes to Go" offers meaning to the person who offers the ashes just as much as those who receive: and when it gets shared in the community, it makes it warmer and more excited about what is possible.

Wouldn't it be something if the experience of doing Ashes to Go transfigures the community inside the church as well as those who receive the Ashes to Go?

Here is my blog post on Ashes to Go in Littleton NH: http://osc-religionandpopculture.blogspot.com/2013/02/ashes-to-go.html

Repeat again: this is fantastic, just what the church should be doing. "Insiders" don't realize how inaccessible the church is to outsiders, who are too scared to come inside, who may be pressing their noses against that glass. Certainly there are substantive issues, but there are also procedural ones--and you need to recognize that for lots of outsiders the issue isn't so much whether the Church's doctrines are believable but how one can practically speaking make contact.

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