For the last few years as rector of a downtown church networked into ministries including those at a university – and a worshipping community that regularly takes to the streets, shelters, school and businesses, I was involved in Ashes to Go only vicariously. I was the guy who stayed back at the historic church and participated in the rota of liturgies in the church and chapel.
Ashes to Go caught on in Chattanooga and elsewhere, and I would hear stories of university students, faculty and staff, as well as production workers and business people, giving thanks for the street ministry. And the story of a woman with ashes on her forehead at midday who would approach a priest on the street and say, “I just need a touchup.”
I wasn’t sure I could make sense of it.
This year, in a different ministry setting for me, I accompanied Mother Abi Moon on the short walk from Saint John’s Church to the Florida State Capitol Entrance Rotunda, frequented during the Legislative Session by lobbyists, school groups, trade groups, and representatives of counties and organizations who come to Tallahassee from across the state for a day or a week. Under Abi’s tutelage I asked each person who approached our “Ashes to Go” stand in the crowded, bustling, noisy Rotunda, “What is your name” and “what would you like to pray for or give thanks for here, today?” I was surprised that each person gave his or her first name, thought for a moment, and then offered,
"You've made my day...
"Pray for my nephew who killed himself last week... pray for my fiancée and our marriage... pray for my family, for my health, give thanks for my promotion, my friends, this day, this season. Pray for God's creation and for our care of it. Pray for the Legislature and the legislation under consideration...."
To each person who heard the words "Remember that you are dust," I also said: "Remember that you are a joy to Jesus today, and in God's eternal day."
And so we began the observance of a holy Lent, with a takeaway prayer card and a list of churches and worship opportunities – including a midday Eucharist in the Capitol Chapel just steps away.
Yes, it’s well and good that we offer the Prayer Book liturgies in our churches and chapels. But I am also impressed by the thankful hearts of people who may have gotten up in the middle of the night to drive to the capital city, and who would be in the Capitol from 8 a.m. till closing. The Episcopal clergy and congregations of the city had remembered them and ministered to them. Called them by name, and stood with them in this mortal life – and also stood with them in resurrection faith, hope and love. We were together in the name of Jesus.