Ashes on the Go

Kind of becoming a trend over here (US). A number of ministers (Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholics--others too) will go out into the streets or the malls and offer ashes on the go. They mark people's foreheads with the "Dust thou art..." formula.

More traditional people do not like it, but more contemporary people don't seem to mind.

Is it happening elsewhere?

What are your reactions to this?

BTW--have a good Lenten season.
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Comments

  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    My Episcopal church was one of several in the Phoenix to offer "Ashes to Go" this morning. They were at our local Light Rail station, as well as in the front yard of a parishioner who lives across the street from a school. I haven't heard yet how it went.
  • ExclamationMarkExclamationMark Shipmate
    edited March 7
    I don't have any issue with the observation and the use of Ashes but doing in it this way seems to "trend" rather than "impact"

    There's a strand of witness that would say our whole life should be a witness and should be our "sign"
  • LaudableLaudable Shipmate
    Our clergy have offered ashes to go at the local railway station from 8 am to 9 am for the last four years: the offering has been well received.
    .
    We also celebrate masses at 10.30 am and 7.30 pm on the day..
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited March 7
    A priest who might have become our p-in-c last year (but for illness) did 'ashes on the go' for much of Ash Wednesday in his West London parish (assisted by other clergy and lay ministers, I hasten to add).

    He would have done something similar in our parish had he been able. Our actual shiny new p-in-c has only just arrived, last Sunday, but I can quite see him doing street-based 'ashing' next year....he's very 'outward looking' and mission-minded...
    :flushed:

    I rather like the idea of 'street church'. Perhaps I'll suggest that we take the Blessed Sacrament out to the nearby Community Centre, say, on Corpus Christi Day, and do Benediction. The Centre is on our patch, but the railway station and the High Street are in the firmly charismatic-evo parish next door, so their Vicar may not approve. We'd ask him first, of course.
    :wink:
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    A friend of mine was one of the inventors of "Ashes on the Go." She says it's definitely brought new people into the church.
  • Well, there yer go. I think it's called 'evangelism', or some such.

    And not a Ranting Preacher, or a Floppy Bible (KJV, of course) to be seen.
    :warning:
  • QohelethQoheleth Shipmate
    Locally, 3 Anglican 'vicars' in surplice and scarf offered an hours-worth of Ashes on the Go that was well-received, I'm told. Interestingly, one of them is pretty con-evo, but was persuaded :).
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited March 7
    Worth a cross-parish effort next year, then, methinks!
    :grin:

    Our two other neighbouring parishes are MOTR Anglican, so not necessarily averse to such ceremonial, although they are both in vacancy at the moment.
  • Personally, I wouldn't want to be ashed "on the go" - we have a quiet, solemn early morning service at our shack that I get up for before I go to work, which feels like an appropriate way to start Lent. A hurried smearing at the station wouldn't have the same impact.

    But people's lives are complicated, and we can't be too precious about insisting that they fit their lives around our patterns. And if ashes at the railway station encourages someone to Lenten reflection, or to Christ, it's done a good thing.
  • My thoughts exactly.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth Mystery Worship Editor
    An Ashes to Go service was MWd three years ago.
  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    I had the privilege a few years ago of administering Ashes to Go at our commuter train station during a heavy snowstorm. Our rector, new at the time, wanted to take part in this but also was obligated to a 7 a.m. service at the church. So she asked me (layperson, director of religious ed) and a parishioner who was in discernment for the diaconate if we would be willing to do so. It was a first for us and for our parish. It reminded me of serving the chalice at the Eucharist - that very intimate, one-on-one moment when you are touching another person in holy business with Christ's presence felt very near. Many people expressed thanks. A couple of people addressed me and my companion as "Sister." A few were matter-of-fact: "This is great. Now I don't have to go out at lunch break." One young woman, averting her eyes, seemed close to tears.

    Plus, did I mention the snow? It lent an otherwordly atmosphere to this sacramental moment, like we were enveloped in a (very wet and chilly) cloud.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Mamacita's account is what it's all about and much how I felt a recipient. But no snow - this year the day was hot and dry, with a maximum in the mid-thirties.
  • TheOrganistTheOrganist Shipmate
    I think Ashes-on-the-Go is an excellent idea. And since our diocese is constantly urging us to be more "relevant", etc :naughty: I'm going to suggest it for next year.
  • Am I the only one here to have misgivings about this? I approve of the desire to reach out, I agree that we must go to where people are, I'm on board with helping busy folk to stop and reflect, I believe we should bring the sacred into the secular. But somehow I'm uneasy about the lack of context: a person (possibly in clerical garb) offers you the mark of ashes as you rush for your train with, presumably, very little explanation. Forgive me, good folks, but I don't quite see what is achieved.
  • Yes, I see what you mean, but Mamacita's post (above) might shed some light, inasmuch as those willing to receive ashes at the station (or wherever) may well be 'lapsed' or 'fringe' Christians (or just too busy to be able to get to Church during the day).

    In which case, this may be a way of strengthening a wavering faith (think 'bruised reeds' or 'smoking wicks').

    I doubt if the offer of ashes means anything at all to the pagans and heathen passing by.....but, for those willing to receive, there must be some underlying belief
    :wink:
  • Well, one would hope so, and you make some good points.

    I suppose that, deep down, I'm concerned that the people who received the ashing might think that they had done a huge Christian act of penance without it actually meaning very much; or that they simply regarded it as some kind of "lucky token". (I fear I may not be expressing myself very well!_
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    I like the idea for the very reasons @Baptist Trainfan has misgivings. It's a brief, embodied act which can have an impact beyond itself, or not. Reflection after the fact is at least as likely to be transformative as reflection in advance, and at least has the merit of minimum religiosity. Religiosity is grossly over valued, especially in Lent, when it reaches toxic levels.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited March 8
    Well, one would hope so, and you make some good points.

    I suppose that, deep down, I'm concerned that the people who received the ashing might think that they had done a huge Christian act of penance without it actually meaning very much; or that they simply regarded it as some kind of "lucky token". (I fear I may not be expressing myself very well!_

    No, again ISWYM, but perhaps we should simply leave it up to God?

    He knows our hearts, and what may appear on the surface to be a token acceptance of the ashes may in fact reach much deeper down into the soul than we can ever know.

  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    My Rector reported that at the corner near a school,
    ...a school bus driver stopped her bus, climbed down to the sidewalk, and received ashes. After receiving her ashes, she told [the clergy distributing the ashes] that she was never able to get to Ash Wednesday services because of her schedule. She was simply happy to have an opportunity to enter into her faith in a convenient place and time.

  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    I've not experienced this as either a minister or a ministrand. But at least two bishops and two archbishops, along with others, were offering 'ashes to go' in Liverpool city centre this Ash Wednesday. And photographs suggest that it was a powerful experience for all involved. In particular, someone kneeling down to offer words of comfort to a homeless person (though the ash would surely have been superfluous for someone already bearing much suffering). It's not many years since this ceremony was regarded as something esoteric for a particular type of Christian; now like lighting candles or leaving flowers at a murder or accident scene, it is rapidly becoming part of secular culture so clearly speaks to people more widely.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Am I the only one here to have misgivings about this? .
    You are not the only one. I have misgivings too, for reasons similar to yours.

    But then again, for the reasons others have given, I think that having my misgivings challenged is probably A Good Thing. Perhaps particularly so at the start of Lent.

    BTW, one local church offered "Drop-In" ashes for much of the day on Ash Wednesday—from 7–9 AM, noon–1, and 5–7 PM in the church, and from 7–9 PM at the outdoor labyrinth. I assume there was some simple liturgy could be used with each person, but I don't know that for sure.
    I rather like the idea of 'street church'. Perhaps I'll suggest that we take the Blessed Sacrament out to the nearby Community Centre, say, on Corpus Christi Day, and do Benediction.
    I am aware of members of the clergy from one church, or perhaps a cluster of churches—their names, location and denomination need not be shared—who set up a table in a transit station of a large city on Maundy Thursday a few years ago. On the table they set loaves of bread and fruit of the vine. If someone stopped at the table, they prayed, said the Words of Institution/Consecreation (what in my tradition might be called the Warrant, and in some other traditions might be called the verba) and, well, you know where this is going. Not everyone stopped, of course, but I understand they were surprised by how many did, and by the deep emotional reactions of many of those who stopped.

    Now, it probably goes without saying that this wasn't really in accord with the canons or discipline of the denomination to which these members of the clergy belonged. Whether they had approval from anyone else, I don't know. And if "Ashes to Go" gives me some misgivings, you can imagine my misgivings about this.

    And yet . . .

    I'm not a big fan of asking "What Would Jesus Do." But these seem like two situations where it could be a very apt question. It's not too hard a leap for me to imagine Jesus standing in that transit station and calling out "Anyone who is hungry, come to me! Anyone who is thirsty, come to me!"

    It was not done, as my people like to say, decently and in order. But I think it might be worth asking: what would Jesus do?
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    He would applaud what is at its least a witness of faith.
  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    I appreciate the concerns that some of you have raised here. We've had a similar discussion in Eccles over the last few years, but I seem to recall many of the objections being raised by shipmates from the more liturgically-oriented traditions! Their concern seemed to be the detachment of the imposition of ashes from any surrounding liturgical context, so that it seems to them to be just transactional. (Which I admit is a reasonable concern, even if I believe there are benefits that override that. But I digress.)

    When it comes to Ashes to Go, I compare it to one of the most significant places in Chicago for Ash Wednesday, the Roman Catholic church of St. Peter's in the Loop. On that day they are open from 6am to 7 pm to get the before- and after-work crowds, and the faithful are lined up down the block all day. St. Peter's will give ashes to as many as 20,000, recruiting volunteers from the parish to do a couple hours' shift in order to serve this many. I haven't been to it, but I imagine it is devoid of liturgy other than the words used when imposing the ashes. I used to work at a bank around the corner and remember colleagues announcing at lunch break, "Be back. Gotta get my ashes." This make be taking place inside a church, but other than that, it seems no different to me than what we were doing on that train platform in the snow. It may or many not be just a transaction.

    It's impossible to know if the person in front of you is in a properly penitent frame of mind, if they have prayed, if they are coming out of habit or superstition, or out of some vague sense of coming close to God. I just remember the young woman who averted her eyes and seemed to be blinking back tears.
  • ExclamationMarkExclamationMark Shipmate
    edited March 9
    angloid wrote: »
    It's not many years since this ceremony was regarded as something esoteric for a particular type of Christian; now like lighting candles or leaving flowers at a murder or accident scene, it is rapidly becoming part of secular culture so clearly speaks to people more widely.
    In that case, is it more fashion than faith involved?

  • Well, I think that there are fashions in church life, whether it be this, or Messy Church, or being slain in the Spirit, or Seeker Services, or becoming anchorites ... There may be a sense in which this is good: a contextualising of the faith to suit the zeitgeist; or bad: a "hopping onto the bandwagon". Which is which is the hard thing to discern!
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Mamacita wrote: »
    It's impossible to know if the person in front of you is in a properly penitent frame of mind, if they have prayed, if they are coming out of habit or superstition, or out of some vague sense of coming close to God. I just remember the young woman who averted her eyes and seemed to be blinking back tears.

    And it's equally impossible in the strictest "smells and bells" setting.
    Has anyone ever seen anyone refused?
  • finelinefineline Purgatory Host
    I've not heard of ashes on the go, but a friend of mine said she saw what seemed to be an on-the-go Mass at the tube station in London a while back, where people were given the sacraments if they wanted them. Though she is not religious herself so she may have been misunderstanding what she saw. I'd never heard of such a thing. Maybe it was the ashes on the go.
  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    I appreciate the concerns that some of you have raised here. We've had a similar discussion in Eccles over the last few years, but I seem to recall many of the objections being raised by shipmates from the more liturgically-oriented traditions! Their concern seemed to be the detachment of the administration of ashes from any surrounding liturgical context. (Which I admit is a reasonable concern, even if I believe there are benefits that override that. But I digress.)

    When it comes to Ashes to Go, I think about one of the most significant places in Chicago for Ash Wednesday, the Roman Catholic church of St. Peter's in the Loop. On that day they are open from 6am to 7 pm, and the faithful line up around the block. They will serve as many as 20,000 that day. They request volunteers from the parish to do a couple hours' shift in order to serve this many. I haven't been to it, but I imagine it is devoid of liturgy other than the words used when imposing the ashes. I picture sort of a quiet cafeteria (not meaning to be pejorative with that analogy). I used to work at a bank around the corner and remember colleagues announcing at lunch break, "Be back. Gotta get my ashes." I respect what St. Peter's does and am moved that so many people want to go. However - it may be inside a church, but other than that, it seems no different to me than what we were doing on that train platform in the snow.

    It's impossible to know if the person in front of you is in a properly penitent frame of mind, if they have prayed, if they are coming out of habit or superstition, or out of some vague sense of coming close to God. I just remember the young woman who averted her eyes and seemed to be blinking back tears.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited March 9
    Mamacita wrote: »

    It's impossible to know if the person in front of you is in a properly penitent frame of mind, if they have prayed, if they are coming out of habit or superstition, or out of some vague sense of coming close to God. I just remember the young woman who averted her eyes and seemed to be blinking back tears.

    For me, that says it all. Just giving someone - anyone - the opportunity to momentarily draw near to God - what's not to like? God, He knows, and will sort all.

    Having said that, I admit to slight misgivings about 'Communion on the go', unless it's accompanied (or preceded) by a very brief service to consecrate the elements in accordance with the practice of the denomination concerned.

    I wonder if perhaps churches used to reserving the Blessed Sacrament could, in fact, use it in this way, i.e. as a sort of 'Communion by Extension' ? (I'm thinking on my feet here - I guess our Diocesan would NOT be keen on this...but perhaps YSWIM).

  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    Yeah, I'm a little iffy on that too. I would need to hear a whole conversation on the matter.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    I’m afraid I don’t know the details on exactly how the transit station Communion was handled. Based on what I do know, I doubt that the manner of celebration would have been in accordance with the requirements or expectations of my denomination, though it’s possible it was done in a way that could satisfy the expectations for Communion by extension.

    There are at least one or two denominations I can think of where it might have met those denominations’ expectations for consecration. That is, at least if I understand those expectations correctly as essentially requiring only the verba.
  • If you offer ashes on the go, then why not take communion/eucharist/mass into the public domain?
  • CruntCrunt Shipmate
    If you offer ashes on the go, then why not take communion/eucharist/mass into the public domain?

    I guess (from an Anglican point of view) that Holy Communion is a dominical sacrament, whereas imposition of ashes isn't.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited March 11
    Do you mean "as mandated by Jesus"?
  • CruntCrunt Shipmate
    yes, but the main point is that imposition of ashes is not held in the same regard as receiving communion.
  • I suspect that Joe and Joanna Public, whether receiving ashes or communion at the bus station, would be unaware of any distinction. They would see both as "church rituals conferring blessing" (or something similar).
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I suspect not. The Ashes On the Go would not be seen as conferring blessing. Something far more complex is going on there. It is something about accepting death and something about being part of a community by participating in a ritual.

    I suspect I would want to put out a card which is basically the formal introduction to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist for people to take away with them.
  • I would have thought that many unchurched people would adduce a far less sophisticated meaning than you suggest - i.e. that either the Sacrament or the Ashes impart, in some vague way, "good fortune" or "wellbeing". The distribution of cards that you suggest is a good idea. But I'm still uneasy about the whole thing.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    What when the only words said are

    "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

    That hardly sounds like a blessing to me.
  • I agree. But I was using the word "blessing" in a more populist way, i.e. "I've let the God-people do something religious to me, that means I'm going to have a Good Day today". Sadly for some the engagement will have gone no further than that IMO.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Even for those who do not fence the table to their own denomination, I would have thought the strictures about not eating and drinking unworthily, or without discerning the body, preclude offering the bread and wine to all and sundry.

    Ashes, particularly since if understood, they denote penitence, strike me as a much better way of doing this. It means people can engage with doing something - as they do when they light a candle - without imposing on them unwittingly the danger to their spirits in eating and drinking the elements without knowing what they are doing.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    the danger to their spirits in eating and drinking the elements without knowing what they are doing.

    What danger?

  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Galilit wrote: »
    What danger?
    1 Cor 11:27-32.
  • Yes, and the theme is taken up in the Exhortations in the 1662 Prayer Book Communion Service (though I doubt if they're read out much these days!).
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    Well, one would hope so, and you make some good points.

    I suppose that, deep down, I'm concerned that the people who received the ashing might think that they had done a huge Christian act of penance without it actually meaning very much; or that they simply regarded it as some kind of "lucky token". (I fear I may not be expressing myself very well!_

    I think you've expressed it well. And your reservations make good sense. Doubtless some people will indeed see it as a kind of 'charm', or misconstrue that what has just happened somehow constitutes the whole of what is reasonably expected from them by way of penance.

    My only comment would be to point out that, quite likely, church congregations are well populated with people who spend, cumulatively, years attending properly constituted services and still manage to come to the same erroneous conclusion!

    It could be risking the de-valuation of a valuable liturgical action to have 'Ashes on the Go', but if that's the reason for not doing it, we might be seriously challenged as to why we 'do' any kind of worship in the way we do!
  • All good (if somewhat depressing!) points ...
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Having done ethnography of religion and therefore had to read what others have written I would suggest that people actually have a nuanced and complex understanding of religious practices outside the church. I think Abby Day's looking at what being Christian meant to those who answered 'yes' in the 2001 survey highlights some of these ideas.
  • ExclamationMarkExclamationMark Shipmate
    edited March 14
    Anselmina wrote: »
    Well, one would hope so, and you make some good points.

    I suppose that, deep down, I'm concerned that the people who received the ashing might think that they had done a huge Christian act of penance without it actually meaning very much; or that they simply regarded it as some kind of "lucky token". (I fear I may not be expressing myself very well!_
    It could be risking the de-valuation of a valuable liturgical action to have 'Ashes on the Go', but if that's the reason for not doing it, we might be seriously challenged as to why we 'do' any kind of worship in the way we do!
    Exactly why we need to be asking the question. Is it valid even oif not understood? is it helpful?

    The biggest question of all is having agreed to ashes on the go, then there is no logical reason why communion on the go will not be licit as well.

    FWIW I still think that for many people is more magic than mystery. It's something I wouldn't encourage. It all seems like faith lite to me - as you say, we have enough of that anyway with people who mouth the full words week by week, yet do nothing.

  • No logical reason? Well if you have no working distinction between a sacrament and another type of liturgical /symbolic action, I suppose not. But these are working distinctions for many people, including me, and part of the logic of my faith.
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