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Photo: John Stowe
On Ash Wednesday, February 13, St. Paul's offered the imposition of ashes from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. outside the Foggy Bottom metro station. 325 people received ashes in the morning and 239 in the evening, despite the rain. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, assisted with the imposition of ashes in the morning. There was much media coverage, which can be surveyed by clicking on the links below. Fr. Kyle Oliver, Kyle Babin, and Sarah Zygmunt have shared their observations on participating in this incredible experience. Fr. Kyle has also created a Storify piece describing the day.
Because my day job has the word 'missioner' in it, I tend to think about experiences like Ashes To Go primarily in terms of evangelism. As we handed out flyer after flyer to the people we met in the neighborhood, I started wondering, 'When was the last time St. Paul's met so many neighbors?'
One of the answers that came to mind was the Foggy Bottom Block Party, another great community event. But I think our Ash Wednesday outreach was even more special, because it was the perfect intersection of community need and the 'vocation' of St. Paul's Parish. We shared a moment of liturgical beauty and quiet prayer with a lot of people on Wednesday, people who will probably never get to experience these aspects of our vocation within the walls of our church (and perhaps a few people who will!).
Especially if you found some excitement and energy from this evangelism experience, I hope you'll join me in the coming weeks in thinking about other ways our strengths as a parish might help us serve our neighborhood. Besides our message of mortality, forgiveness, and blessing, what other St. Paul's stories—what other Gospel stories—are just too good not to share? If we first learn to tell each other, then we can start to dream about our next adventure in evangelism.
--The Rev. Kyle Oliver
A year ago, I had serious misgivings about the Ashes to Go trend, and I probably would have categorized it as watered-down, 'cheap' grace. But after this past Wednesday’s experience outside the Foggy Bottom metro station, I’m a convert to the whole idea. I think many people’s resistance to it, along with my former view, stems from the moniker 'Ashes to Go,' as if it were some kind of liturgical McDonald’s. Yet what we from St. Paul’s offered yesterday to hundreds of commuters, students, and citizens of this metro region was anything but cheap. It was a profound moment of grace for those who partook of our offering.
I watched as—literally—hundreds of passersby lined up for the imposition of ashes and a special blessing. Standing next to Bishop Mariann Budde, I observed her share the same breath with countless individuals as they engaged in a deep but brief moment of prayer. She and Fr. Humphrey called each person by name, and several left with tears in their eyes. Many expressed quite clearly their gratefulness for the opportunity to receive ashes.
I think there are many reasons that people chose to avail themselves of this powerful moment of the sacred in the midst of going to and fro in their busy lives. One student said that he would be in class all day and didn’t know when he’d get to church. At least a couple of doctors emerged from GWU hospital when they heard what was happening; perhaps they would be in surgery or immersed in their own healing work all day and not have a chance to go to a service. Maybe some people forgot that it was Ash Wednesday. And, significantly, I imagine that quite a few have been unchurched or away from church for some time, whether from bad experiences or negligence. But it doesn’t matter because something in what was offered yesterday on 23rd Street beckoned to these children of God, and whether or not they ever find the doors of St. Paul’s, I sincerely pray that they found something of God in the brief encounter yesterday. This Ash Wednesday was indeed all about sharing the Good News, oddly, through a sacramental sign of our own mortality.
To remind someone of their mortality is a strange thing to do in a culture that values youth and beauty. To invite people to stop and pray in the middle of the mad stampede that is the DC commute is even stranger.
I had doubts whether Ashes to Go would work. Would people get it? More importantly, would people get it the way I get it? But ultimately, I found that "getting it" wasn't important. We met and were met where we are. If an ashy cross on a street corner can pull a person's thoughts toward God for a moment in the midst of the busy-ness, we've done our job.
Who were they? Where are they on their journeys of faith? Did they get it? God knows. And God loves.
Media Coverage of Ashes to Go at the Foggy Bottom Metro Station