Ashes to Go: The Observance Of Lent

(FOX 11) Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period in which Christians prepare for Holy Week and the celebration of Easter.

It is a solemn time of prayer, reflection, introspection and fasting.

Around the world today, many will go thru their day wearing a sign of the cross marked in ash on their forehead. The cross symbolic of repentance before God; the ash used to make the mark often produced from the palm fronds that were used during the previous year's Palm Sunday services.

And while traditionally the ashes are applied during mass in church, around the world today, something "different" will happen: priests and pastors will be found standing on street corners, in mini-malls and near fast food restaurants; at train stations, coffee houses and supermarkets, blessing and anointing the faithful with "ashes to go".

No altar, large crucifix or collection plate in sight – just ashes and faith, plain and simple.

While traditionalists may scoff at the idea of a "pop-up" church of sorts, what started out in 2010 with only three Chicago-area Episcopal congregations taking ashes and prayer out to suburban train stations in hopes of finding "commuters hungry for a moment of prayer, renewal and grace" has now grown into an international spiritual movement.

Priests realize that in people's daily rush-rush to survive, they often have no time to attend a church service on a work-day or some will simply forget it is Ash Wednesday since the holy day can start anywhere from February to March, depending on that year's lunar calendar.

Here in the San Fernando Valley, the Rector of Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys and a personal friend, Father Vincent Schwahn will once again spend the day standing on at the corner of Van Nuys and Vanowen marking this holy day.

Last year, I watched as dozens of people came for a blessing and their "ashes to go". Some looked perplexed as Father Vincent, in his priestly robe, stood there surrounded by other clergy members.

Cars honked; truck drivers waved; everyone stared. Some at the red light even waved the Priests over for a real quick blessing that lasted the duration of the red light.

After receiving her ashes, I heard one lady ask if she could confess while she was there. "I really need a blessing", she said to Father Vincent who quickly put the ashes down and took her aside.

At the end of that day, more than 600 people had received their "ashes to go" on the corner.

Ashes and a blessing; a wish and a hope for a better tomorrow.

As he rode by on his bicycle, one man stopped to talk to me and said "Well, they teach us God is everywhere so why shouldn't he be here, on this corner in Van Nuys?".

And that reminded me of the old children's rhyme and hand game:

"Here is the church, Here is the steeple, Open the door and See all the people"

And I thought…Here, here on this noisy street corner is the church.

There's no need today for a steeple or a door.

For here is the church and see, see all the people.

Click HERE for more information on Ashes To Go.

Click HERE for more information on St. Mark's.

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