Motorists may have been curious when they saw two Episcopal priests waving and waving to passers-by on Wednesday on a busy street corner just outside of downtown Oklahoma City.
Reverend Katie Churchwell and Reverend Paige Hanks took Christian Ash Wednesday observance outside the four walls of the church as part of ‘Ashes to Go’. For an hour, Churchwell, Dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, administered the imposition of ashes at NW 7 and Broadway Avenue alongside Hanks, an associate priest at the church, 127 NW 7.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Christian season of Lent. The ashes used to observe the day often come from the burning of palm fronds used in Palm Sunday services the previous year. During Ash Wednesday services in churches around the world, ashes are placed on the foreheads of worshipers under the sign of the cross.
The clergy offer a brief prayer, usually including the words “Remember that dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” to remind believers of their mortality – that they are on Earth for a short time.
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Churchwell said that in the first 20 minutes of the outreach, about nine people received the imposition of ashes.
“It’s wonderful that we had so many people stop and receive their ashes as they walked or passed by, but ultimately our hope was to be a public witness to God’s love in the world and a a reminder for each person that it is not inside certain doors at certain times that God is accessible – so even on a street corner, God is waiting with love,” she said.
Removal of barriers
The awareness is part of a nationwide movement that has grown in recent years to bring a new approach to a centuries-old observance. Some initiatives are called “Ashes to Go” or “Ash and Dash”, with passers-by offering passers-by a brief Ash Wednesday prayer and dispensation of ashes when they stop at street corners, in church parking lots, cafes and other places.
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Churchwell said the principle of “Ashes to Go” is to help remove any barriers, such as busy schedules, family life or other issues, that might prevent people from attending traditional services at the Ash Wednesday such as the four scheduled services at St. Paul’s or a traditional service at other churches. And she said evangelism is also a way to show the love of Christ to those who don’t attend any church.
“The truth is that Ash Wednesday is not just a day for people who are particularly religious or who have a church, because Ash Wednesday is about remembering our mortality and it is an invitation to live life to the full and not take it for granted,” she said. .
“And then in our context, this invitation comes from a God who loves us. So I always say that the ashes are not only a reminder of your mortality but also a reminder of how loved by God you are.”
Sitting in her car, Terri Cribben, of Keller, Texas, closed her eyes as Churchwell said a prayer outside her car window before using ashes from a pot to make the shape of a cross on her forehead.
Cribben said she was visiting her mother and other relatives in Oklahoma City when she decided to Google Ash Wednesday services.
“I was so happy because I was trying to find a place,” she said of St. Paul’s “Ashes to Go.”
“Ash Wednesday is very important to us.”