Texas Clergy Take to the Streets on Ash Wednesday
|The Rev. Alejandro Montes offers ashes to
a homeless man. (Photo: Heriberto Basabe)
Montes offers ashes from the back of a
Lent is a time when people who have “been separated from the body of the faithful” are reconciled and “restored to the fellowship of the Church.” - BCP
In addition to regular services on Ash Wednesday, many churches in the Diocese of Texas took to the streets to find those who are separated and deliver ashes to the community. The process dubbed “Ashes to Go” started in St. Louis, Mo. in 2007 and has since spread to the streets of Chicago, train stations in New Jersey and grocery store parking lots in Houston.
Some clergy in Texas stood on street corners, at bus stations or near coffee shops. The Rev. Rhoda Montgomery, rector of St. Thomas, College Station, imposed ashes and prayers at a taco stand, which drew the attention of USA Today. The Rev. Lacy Largent used the Seafarer’s Ministry to offer ashes aboard a ship.
The Rev. Alejandro Montes held Ash Wednesday services at San Mateo, Houston, then set out on foot to the Southwest Clinic, where he was invited to offer ashes to the staff and patients. On his mile-long walk, Montes encountered many people who wanted ashes and a prayer. Among them were a truck driver, a landscaper, a grocery store worker and even strangers at a bus stop.
At one stop, Montes encountered a homeless man in a wheelchair whom he had often seen in the area. When Montes offered him ashes, the man began to cry.
“When I approached him, he was surprised and overcome with tears,” Montes said. “He was very touched.”
On his way back from the clinic, a man in a truck offered to give him a ride in exchange for providing the ashes. After giving ashes to the man and hopping in the bed of the truck, three women came to the edge of the truck to also receive ashes.
“Some people asked me ‘how much do you charge?’ I had to tell them it was free. It was very interesting,” Montes said. “It was wonderful.”
Montes estimated that he gave ashes to 60-75 people, including some Roman Catholics, whose leaders along with some Episcopal leaders, do not believe in providing ashes outside the formal worship service.
In Burnet, the Rev. Jerry Lyle and the Rev. Ted Hervey stopped at the town square to offer ashes before heading over to a local hospital at their request. They then returned to the church to hold their regular Ash Wednesday service.
“We got to meet many new people and there were many who were curious as to what we were doing!” Lyle said. “It was received well, and this will now be a regular part of our Ash Wednesday service at Epiphany, Burnet.”
The Rev. Billy Tweedie at St. David’s, Austin, offered ashes to nearly 200 people on a street corner in downtown Austin. Each recipient left with this powerful message: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
“We decided we would go out to the people and bring the ashes to them,” Tweedie told a local TV station. “While the church would love to have their pews full, we recognize that their lives are full too. We’re trying to meet them where they’re at and keep up with this busy culture.”
The Diocese of Texas received reports of all kinds of activity on Ash Wednesday. The Rev. Todd Bryant offered ashes at the Ascension School, Houston, pick-up line. The Rev. Bobbie Knowles visited a nursing home, and the Rev. Brad Sullivan visited youth group members at a Houston high school at lunch. St. Luke’s Hospital chaplains offered ashes to patients and staff.
The hope expressed by all of these clergy is not only that they made people more mindful of Lent and their mortality, but also that some of the recipients of the ashes will find themselves in a church service soon.