Ash Wednesday: Ashes to-go bring ministry to the streets

Elias Baer — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
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Kristin Orr, rector at Livingston’s St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, stands in front of the church on West Lewis St. Wednesday morning, ashes in hand, prepared to perform an Ash Wednesday service “to-go.” (Enterprise photo by Elias Baer)

On Ash Wednesday, many people flock to their local church for a special service commemorating the start of Lent, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten the rules of day-to-day life, including attending church services.

For decades, churches around the world have done “ashes to-go,” according to Kristin Orr, rector at Livingston’s St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, but this year the tradition takes on a new significance. 

The ashes to-go tradition began as a way for churches to bring their ministry to people on the streets, Orr said, but this year ashes to-go will provide an option for any one uncomfortable with crowding into a church due to COVID concerns. 

“(Ashes to-go) is especially important this year,” Orr said. “Many of my parishioners still aren’t comfortable with large gatherings inside.” 

This year Orr anticipates holding more to-go services than usual, but St. Andrew’s will still hold its Ash Wednesday service as usual at 7 p.m. 

Anyone interested in ashes to-go will find Orr standing on the steps of her parish located at 301 W. Lewis St. performing a condensed service for those choosing not to attend the actual service. 

“It’s a much shorter service,” Orr said. “I plan to stand on the sidewalk in front of the church. It’s a busy sidewalk, so it’s a way for St. Andrew’s to get out into the community. You want to go where the people are, and that’s going to be West Lewis today.”

Anyone interested will find ashes to-go between 5 and 7 p.m.

The walk-up service will include the traditional application of palm ashes leftover from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service on the forehead in the shape of a cross, and as Orr applies the ashes she will recite the Ash Wednesday prayer: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” followed by a reading from Psalm 51.

Ash Wednesday represents the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting from food and festivities, a tradition intended to replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. 

“Lent is a time when we focus on our need for God and having God in our lives,” Orr said. “We talk about (ashes) as signs of our mortality and penitence, but they are also a reminder of God’s power to heal and restore and renew.”