Mobile rite for penitents on the go
The white sandwich board propped by the side of Broadway said simply, written in thick black letters, “Ashes to Go.” Beneath that, a “+” to make the intent even clearer.
The Revs. Nature Johnston and Teri Shecter stood in front of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, near the busy Broadway, in their white cassocks and purple stoles. Cars, trucks and SUVs zoomed past, drivers occasionally glancing over, perhaps remembering that it wasn’t just any Wednesday, but Ash Wednesday.
And it was the zooming past that the purpose of “Ashes to Go” was made clear.
“It’s for people who are too busy to come to church on Ash Wednesday but still want to receive the imposition of ashes,” Johnston explained.
So, for an hour Wednesday afternoon, from 4 to 5 p.m., Johnston and Shecter stood outside to offer the imposition to drivers who pulled into the church’s gravel parking area. On a little folding table near the “Ashes to Go” sandwich board were two small, round cloisonne containers in which were ashes mixed with cooking oil, as well as moist towelettes and orange slices to clean the ashes off their hands.
It was the third consecutive year the church had offered Ashes to Go, an idea that Johnston and Shecter had read about a church in Chicago trying.
“Now it’s fairly common,” Shecter explained. And while it doesn’t draw droves of participants, she said, the half dozen or so who have come by each year are grateful for the opportunity.
As if on cue, a woman and her friend pulled into the parking lot in an SUV, getting out and walking to where Johnston and Shecter stood by the road.
“We would have come to you!” Johnston said with a smile.
“You would?” one of the women asked. “This is like Vegas!”
“How is it like Vegas?” Johnston asked.
“Oh, you know, drive-up weddings.”
“We draw the line there,” Shecter chimed in, laughing.
Johnston dipped her right thumb into the ashes and made a cross on each woman’s forehead, saying as she did a modern version of the admonition in Genesis 3:19: “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
Several minutes later, Amy McCulley pulled into the parking lot in her maroon Mustang and Shecter approached her at her rolled-down window, repeating the familiar ritual. McCulley drove away with the cross in black on her forehead, making a mobile start to the 40 days of Lent.