Ashes to Go, Blessings on the Way

For the first time today I participated in Ashes to Go. I joined other people from St. David’s in Austin at the corner of 6th and Congress in front of the Starbucks for 90 minute shift.
I would guess that in the time we were there we imposed ashes on about 60 people. Maybe more. Several things struck me during my time there.
First, people came with openness. Many were appreciative, saying they were not able to get to church and felt the need to have the ashes in any way they could. About half said before receiving ashes that they were Roman Catholic. I was not always sure what they meant by this. All of us imposing ashes simply affirmed their identity and offered them ashes. The attitude of all who received ashes was profound gratitude.
Two encounters stand out for me. One was when several of us imposed ashes on about half of a Segway tour group. The other was when we gave ashes to a Christian from Iran. I don’t think her church in Iran had a custom of imposing ashes but she explained she had just moved to America and wanted the ashes as a sign she believed in Jesus. We gave her a card that we gave to every person that included a list of services for St. David’s. She seemed profoundly moved and said she would come to visit.
Some of my clergy colleagues and I had a Facebook discussion today about where the Easter equivalent to Ashes to Go is. If on Ash Wednesday we offer a public witness in preparation for Lent, when does that happen for Easter? Of course, a public action on Easter Sunday might not be as effective downtown or at commuter stations. But what if something was done on Easter Monday? What if we offered a blessing of the baptismal waters from the Easter Vigil? What if we offered a blessing in the name of the Risen Christ? What if we offered to all those people who pass by us a Blessing on the Way?


Filed under Episcopal Church and Anglicanism, Mission, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Ashes to Go, Blessings on the Way

  1. What if we blessed people outside the bars and in the red light districts after Easter Vigil and before bed?
    I know some of the Ashes-to-go people also offer blessings and prayers for those who need/want/ask. Why wait to bless people?
    “Life’s short. Show love now.” Dr. Ah-z

  2. That sounds like a good idea, Ana!

  3. Fr. Steve De Muth

    Ashes 2 Go: It sounds to me as if you and many of the sixty or so people you ministered to on Wednesday experienced connection, however tenuous, in a disconnected society. You all displayed a profound generosity of spirit.

    Though I am not sold on Ashes 2 Go in general, I found myself pulled into it as a pastoral response to a specific request. In between our three services on Wednesday, a woman came to my office door and asked when our next service would take place. I told her we had a service in Spanish at 6:30 pm and another service in English at 7:00 pm. The woman, I had never seen her before, said that she had to leave for work and would it be possible to receive ashes then and there.

    I opened the Prayer Book and prefaced the imposition of ashes with at least some brief context and made the sign of the cross on her forehead with ash. She broke into tears. She shared what was on her heart and we briefly prayed, embraced, and said our goodbyes.

    I have heard those who strongly favor Ashes 2 Go say that it is a great way to bring the church out into the community. Yes. That is certainly a creative way to apply a meaningful part of a liturgy publicly. Though by no means is it the best or only way to do “public” ministry.

    Here at Holy Trinity we take the church to the people throughout the year. We celebrate St. Frances’ Day with a children’s service and blessing outdoors. We celebrate Shrive Tuesday with a typical pancake supper and pancake races AND share them with the homeless men and women in the park across the way. Our Stations of the Cross in the City stops at the homeless encampment in the park, the police station and various public locations before ending in the chapel with a recreation of mount Calvary. Our celebration of St Michael and All Angels invites and honors local first responders and fetes them with a huge pot luck. Our Celebration of our Lady of Guadalupe and Las Posadas was announced publicly with a 30 foot banner across the Main Street. The Mariachi’s led our outdoor procession from the park to the principal church for the mass and serenade. We had over 50 visitors join us that night and that in one of the worst storms in recent history. For Las Posadas we had live donkeys, two youth dressed as Mary and Joseph, and over 100 folks singing Carols in Spanish and English. We enthusiastically sang carols in Spanish and English and stopped at three previously arranged restaurants to wish everyone a blessed Christmas and a happy holiday. We were joined by folks from the street and they were welcomed to the owing prayers in the chapel and to tamales and champurrado in the parish hall.

    All this points to the variety of ways we can publicly share our faith in a welcoming and meaningful manner. Many times I’ve seen these celebrations lead people to the church and into the pews. I guess I just want to point out the fallacy in what a respected colleague once said, “At least Ashes 2 Go” brings the church to the people. There are many varied ways this can be done. I personally find Ashes 2 Go a little anemic, but I agree that much of our mission lies outside the church walls as we continue to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to marathon runners, visit new friends on death row and comfort those who weep.

  4. I’d never heard of ashes to go before, and while I appreciate outreach, to an outsider public ministry in the form of say, public blessings can be very tricky. For Jews in particular, indiscriminate public blessings on Easter can bring up bad memories. When someone tells me (and it’s happened more than once) that “Jesus loves YOU”, and depending on the situation, I can get resentful and have to tell myself that this person intends well. I assume I might have a slightly bemused reaction if I were blessed walking out of a bar on Easter Monday — although that’s probably not going to happen this year as the holidays coincide 😉

  5. Very important reflections, Katja. At least in my experience, these public rites are presented in a way to not feel coercive. I think the point to underline is that these ashes or blessings are offered first, not given. And in Ashes to Go, we stand there with the ashes and a sandwich sign. It is only after someone approaches us that we offer ashes. So I guess in my tradition we would call that a “ministry of presence.” People avail themselves of it. You are right — we should not be ritually showering people with holy water with no discrimination of who wants it or not. This is good stuff to reflect on — how are such public offerings done in a way that does not feel coercive to others who don’t share in that tradition.

  6. To be sure, your description made that very clear. I was reacting to you reflections regarding Easter at the very end.

  7. Right. Yes — that would need to also be done in an invitational way, not just be done to people.

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