The Ashes to Go movement came last year to the church I serve in Washington, DC. We are a pretty traditional congregation, especially in matters liturgical and theological, so this was bound to be an experience that stretched us. How would the neighborhood respond? How would our parishioners respond?
“Incredibly positively,” was the answer I shared time and time again in the days following.
I’ve reflected in many workshops since about the value of this experience as kerygma (proclamation), one of Maria Harris’s five curricula of the people of God. Our faith is formed through proclamation, Harris says. I believe she is right.
How was our faith formed that fateful day at St. Paul’s? Through our proclaiming, we were reminded that our spiritual gifts are a blessing not just to us but to others.
We learned on Ash Wednesday that weren’t imposing our beliefs on the people coming and going at the Foggy Bottom Metro Station, even though we did impose ashes on some of their foreheads and remind them that they are but dust.
No, we were offering a gift: a chance to have a sacred moment in a public space, a chance to reflect briefly on the big questions of life and for that experience to be a blessing. It turned out that the incense and fancy vestments we prefer helped make those moments what they were, at least for some people. And it didn’t seem to drive anyone away.
The gift we received in return (God’s economy is like that, isn’t it?) was a reminder that our strengths matter, that beauty and prayer and witness and reverence still have the power to touch and to transform not just our members but our neighbors and maybe even our neighborhood.
In the life of our parish, Ashes to Go 2013 was a much needed confidence boost during a vulnerable time of transition. If that’s not a traditional Ash Wednesday grace, it’s at least a reminder that, corporately as well as individually, forming faith requires an awareness of where we currently are on our spiritual journeys.
The Diocese of Washington asked us to put together a planning checklist to give some local specificity to the excellent resources available on the Resources and FAQ pages of the Ashes to Go website. I hope you’ll share your own experiences in the comments.
And if you take to the streets on March 5, 2014 to proclaim to others the mercy and love of God in Christ, I encourage you to pay attention as well to the way the experience shapes your own life of faith.
Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and an assistant priest at St. Paul’s Parish (K Street) in Washington, DC.