Episcopal clergy offer Ashes to Go at six Maine locations

Shirley Bowen offers ashes to a passerby at Monument Square.  Tim Higgins (left) and Peter Bowen look on. (Photo: Robert Bukaty/AP)

In 2012 the Rev. Shirley Bowen offers ashes to a passerby at Monument Square. Tim Higgins (left) and Peter Bowen look on. (Photo: Robert Bukaty/AP)

A group Episcopal clergy and laypeople will take the traditional Ash Wednesday practice of the imposition of ashes from inside of church buildings out to the people on the streets of Portland, Windham, Winthrop, Falmouth, Brunswick, and Waterville. In its third year in Maine, Ashes to Go has spread to three new communities in 2014.

On Wednesday, March 5, Ashes to Go will be available to all who wish the imposition of ashes and a brief blessing

  • in Portland at Monument Square from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • in Windham at the Windham Post Office parking lot on Route 302 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • in Falmouth at the Pratt and Abbot Dry Cleaners parking lot on Route 1 from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • in downtown Winthrop from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • in downtown Waterville from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the REM building at 93 Main St.
  • all over Brunswick: from 6:45 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. at the train station, 7:45 to 8:05 at the bus stop at the corner of Pleasant and Maine Streets, 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Mid-Coast Hunger Prevention Program soup kitchen on Union Street, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m in front of Bowdoin College Chapel and at the Tontine Mall.
In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. As a time of self-reflection for believers, Lent is often marked by prayer, penance, and charity.

In 2012 the Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue who also serves as priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Washington Avenue, invited several clergy from area congregations to join him in sharing ashes at the two Portland locations. The clergy, fully-vested, planted a sign and then offered the ashes and a brief blessing to about 120 people between the two locations.

Weeks described one of the encounters, “A man in an expensive business suit walked by quickly, glanced at sign and us and kept going. Then he circled back slowly and approached and when he was in front of me, had tears in his eyes and said haltingly, ‘It’s been so… long.’”

The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham,  described his experience in 2012 as “one of the coolest ministries I have even been involved with.” He added,  “A jogger came through and stopped long enough to pray with us, receive his ashes and continue on his jog, while saying, ‘I’ve never done that before, thanks so much!’”

Episcopalians in Chicago, St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Newark, Erie, Austin and many other cities and suburbs will take ashes to the streets tomorrow. The practice started with a priest offering Ashes-to-Go at a commuter rail station in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in 2007. It caught on and is working its way across the country.

Weeks added, “We found that many people had forgotten that it was Ash Wednesday and welcomed the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing. It’s high time we venture outside our church walls to offer hope and forgiveness and healing to people who may still have a spiritual hunger but aren’t so sure about Church.”

1 Comment

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One response to “Episcopal clergy offer Ashes to Go at six Maine locations

  1. (The Rev) Chuck Bradshaw

    Although I generally applaud efforts to “move the boundary of the congregation out into the community”… and I don’t want to dismiss what the Holy Spirit might accomplish through this outreach… and the last thing I want to be is a sour pickle… still I have some reservations about “ashes to go.”

    As far as I know, our 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the first Prayer Book EVER in the Anglican Communion to include an Ash Wednesday Liturgy and make specific reference to the OPTIONAL Imposition of Ashes (“If ashes are to be imposed…”) Prior to that, those of us with catholic souls used a similar liturgy, we just didn’t get it from the Prayer Book.

    But the intention was not to isolate the act with ashes from the context of a complete liturgy: the Thing Behind the “thing”– with time taken to teach on the reason for the season (“Dear People of God…”). When I hear people interviewed on the street saying “It was really important to get our ashes!” in what struck me as a nonchalant way, I hope they’re not attaching a magical meaning to the ashes themselves, separating the sign from the thing signified.

    It’s clear that there was some benefit for the person who didn’t feel well enough to attend early morning Mass at her Roman Catholic church. But I’m not sure the jogger has a clue.

    “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Know where the snares are. May the Lord be glorified through this creative approach. But please, take care not to pander to the culture with offers of cheap grace.

    Pax Christi!

    (The Rev.) Chuck Bradshaw
    Mityana, Uganda