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Ashes to go…



I’m still not quite sure what to make of this: The Episcopal churches of southern Maine imposed (distributed?) ashes on/to folks on the streets of Portland and other cities on this most recent Ash Wednesday. According to the AP, the church’s motto for the day was “You’re on the go, so [we] bring the ashes to you.” The little sign is a nice touch, too.


I understand that the Episcopal Church USA is really concerned about their declining membership. Most mainline denominations are facing, if not succumbing to, the same problem. And I understand that, in order to combat that decline, the church needs to explore some outside-the-box ways of taking the Good News to the street. McAshes, however, just doesn’t seem to be the right strategy.

The church is not a retail institution. Its profound inability to reach the people by traditional means (i.e. stay inside and wait until someone shows up) still does not warrant trying to make the church conform to certain retail sensibilities about product sampling and public events marketing. Eugene Peterson wrote some years ago about the denigration of clergy as religious shop-keepers. This kind of stunt only confirms his argument. Christianity cannot be vended alongside street food and fake Ray-bans.

Christianity can, however, be shared even more effectively (I would argue) on those very same streets by the community formed around that ashen cross and the baptismal covenant out of which it arises. Those folks who stop to consider their mortality, reflect on their sinfulness, and give thanks for the grace which marks them are completely equipped to leave their places of worship and go to work in the world bearing God’s mercy and love on and through themselves. I’m having a hard time imagining that so much necessary work gets done during a thirty-second stop on a cold, winter sidewalk.

Those who disagree may well cite my lack of imagination. So be it. But I would rather spend more time forming the community that incarnates Christ in its daily work and play than spend time forming distribution strategies for dust.

By the way, you kids: get off my lawn.


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