Creating a sheltered center with Ashes to Go

On Ash Wednesday, February 18, Maine churches offered dozens of services to mark the beginning of the season of Lent with the imposition of ashes. In five locations around the state, clergy and lay people shared God’s love with people they encountered on a street corner or in a parking lot. All those who took part were moved by the experience. Here are the stories and photos from several people who offered Ashes to Go in Brunswick, Farmington, Lewiston, Portland, and Windham.

Bishop Stephen Lane writes of his experience in Portland:

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Bishop Lane and Canon Ambler listen to a young man at Monument Square.

Today I had the privilege of sharing God’s love with folks in Portland’s Monument Square. From noon to 2, Michael Ambler and I prayed with and marked with ashes some 35 people who approached us and asked for some of our time. As each one came up we made a little circle, shared our names, and talked about what was on our hearts.

Those we prayed with were a remarkably diverse lot, of all ages and circumstances. Only two said there was nothing to pray about. The rest opened their hearts and shared deeply about their joys and sorrows. A young man in town for the day from New Jersey – and whose family was waiting in the car – asked to be a better father and to move closer to God, especially for the 15 month old in he car. A college student prayed for her sister who has Crohn’s disease and never smiles. A young mom asked prayers for her special needs daughter and her own efforts to do right by her. A homeless woman prayed for an apartment – and for her elderly mother in the hospital. A church goer who had forgotten today was Ash Wednesday asked prayers for her husband, who “just had a stroke.” Several people wished us to pray for peace – here and everywhere.

I was deeply moved by the experience. No one seemed to be running from the truth of life in this world. Everyone seemed pretty clear about mortality and sin. Some were church folks; some were not. And in the moment, each reached for community, for understanding, for a sign that God knows what it’s all about – and cares.

We do have great gifts to offer the world. I’m thankful for the chance to share God’s love and to be reminded how good it is.

The Rev. Cn. Michael Ambler was at Monument Square with Bishop Steve. He writes:

I was especially moved by how open people were willing to be about what’s going on in their lives.  We joined people in prayer for peace, for family members, for housing and stability, as well as in prayers of thanks for a great life.  We always know, when we pause to remember, that everyone passing us on the street has a story; but what a privilege to get a moment’s invitation to hear and pray about people’s lives.
It was also just great to have two of us there:  that meant that when someone came to receive ashes, we could form a little triangle, a space with a sheltered center. 
The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s, Windham staked out the parking lot at the Windham P.O. with Deacon Wendy Rozene. He writes:
Ash Wednesday has become for me one of the most fulfilling ministry days of the year. There is something about being in community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with with a young man at Ashes to Go in 2014.

Deacon Wendy Rozene talks with a young man at the Windham post office in 2014.in the community where our folks live and work and offering them a true service of the Church, praying with folk and talking about the Episcopal Church in Windham and beyond. I am grateful to God for this opportunity and I realize that it could be the start of some other “ministry of presence” in the community.

We had little children with moms as well as elderly folk in their vehicle who couldn’t get out and we provided them “drive thru ashes.” We also offered “Ashes on the Go” to a Church member, accountant, who asked if I would stop by his office because he couldn’t make our service tonight.
One gentleman remarked,” this idea has inspired me so much that I’m NOT going to take Ashes to Go but I’m going to make the effort to go to Church tonight instead.” Amen! Isn’t that why we do what we do?
The Rev. Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity and priest in charge of St. Peter’s, Portland, took the morning shift at Monument Square with Dean Ben Shambaugh and Deacon Dick Rasner of St. Luke’s Cathedral. Larry, who has taken the lead on Ashes to Go since 2012, had this to say:

It was as usual a rare privilege to be with people. I find something revealing about the physicality of the ashes and imposing them, a holy spot is found.

A family of 4 kids and a mom brought over their grandfather, who prayed for his family, standing just behind him, beaming. Only the grandfather wanted ashes, and as they walked off, one of the grandchildren said, “See, I told you we would find a church.” We were a church! Wow.

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

Brenda Holman and the Rev. Tim Walmer on Main Street in Farmington

The Rev. Tim Walmer of St. Luke’s, Wilton, and St. Barnabas’, Rumford, offered Ashes to Go for the first time in downtown Farmington. He was accompanied by St. Luke’s member Brenda Holman. Tim writes:

St. Luke’s secretary dropped by with her two children, and the oldest (aged 11) was reluctant. I told him No problem; you don’t have to.  Five minutes later he got out of the car and said, “I’ve changed my mind.”
One of our folks was with me, and we handed out cards with the prayer, “Life is short and we have not much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us; so be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
All in all a moving experience, in part because we found ourselves doing something outside of our comfort zone.
St. Paul's, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

St. Paul’s, Brunswick, parishioner Jane Burke get ready to accompany Deacon Chick Carroll to offer Ashes to Go at the local soup kitchen.

The Rev. Mary Lee Wile of St. Paul’s, Brunswick reports:

St. Paul’s sent five parishioners and two deacons out to four locations around Brunswick: the Soup Kitchen, Bowdoin College, the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets, and (new this year, arranged by one of our parishioners) Midcoast Hospital. Total recipients of ashes and prayers = somewhere over 50. 

A story: a Jewish gentleman came back three times to talk about ashes in Hebrew Scripture, to thank us for being a public witness, and to listen in when someone requested ashes. Although he didn’t receive ashes himself, he said, “I like that prayer.” 
Klara Tammany, director of the Women’s Wisdom Center and member of Trinity, Lewiston, took Ashes to Go to Kennedy Park while the Rev. Steve Crowson shared Ashes to Go at the Trinity Jubilee Center. Klara writes:
Pat (a Methodist parishioner and clergy ordained through ChIME – the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine) and I were in Kennedy Park.  We used the traditional “Remember that you are made from dust and to you shall return.” but added at Pat’s suggestion “And remember that God loves you, now matter what.” 
 
We also asked if there were any prayer needs.  Several did request – one from a young man was for a friend who had died just three days prior. 
 
Another older couple came to us, walking hand in hand, having read about us in the paper.  They said they were Roman Catholic, and people had told them they should not come to us because we were not, but since the local St. Pat’s was now closed, they saw no reason not to come to us because they wanted to receive ashes and it was the only way they could do so.  They thanked us for being there. 
 
After we left the park, I took ashes to the women’s center.  A group of women who wanted to receive ashes, gathered in our meditation room.  A couple had never done this before. All were touched and thankful.

 

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