CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the holy season of Lent begins, Christian faithful around the globe head to church to observe Ash Wednesday. More than two dozen local churches have been offering ashes and blessings outside their church walls.
For five years, many Episcopal churches in our area have been offering Ashes to Go, allowing people to drive up, get ashes and a blessing, and get on with their day.
“It’s very important for the church to meet people where they are and to let them find God in a way that works for them in a time and in a space that works for them,” explained Rev. Vicki Zust, the rector for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clarence.
“The whole hope of the church is to remove barriers, to say everybody’s welcome,” agreed Bishop William Franklin, who joined with clergy and lay members at St. Paul’s this Ash Wednesday to take part in the annual Ashes to Go tradition.
Whoever administers the ashes, whether inside the church or out in the parking lot, Bishop Franklin says the meaning is the same. “This day begins the 40 days of Lent and the ashes remind us of our mortality, that we will not live on earth forever, but because of God’s love, we will be with God forever,” he explained. “It’s also a promise of eternal life.”
The bishop says it can be an emotional experience for those receiving ashes and a blessing. “I say, ‘You’re dust, and to dust you shall return. God loves you very much,’ and I give them a blessing, and very often people have tears in their eyes,” he told News 4. “So I think on this day, it reminds them of death, but it also reminds them of love.”
“How great that today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day!” he added.
St. Paul’s leaders were expecting a larger than normal crowd of worshipers coming for Ashes to Go this year because many may have other Valentine’s Day plans in the evening that would prevent them from going to a traditional full-length service.
Many of those who come through the Ashes to Go line at St. Paul’s don’t attend services there at all. “The Roman Catholic population really takes advantage of it, as do Episcopalians, and also people who grew up with no faith at all who heard about it and just wanted to see what it was all about,” Zust said.