Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Rev. Frank Espegren, senior pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, blesses Marisol Vivanco of Sacramento after marking a cross on her forehead with ashes outside the church Wednesday.

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‘Ashes to Go’ brings ancient Ash Wednesday ritual to Sacramento streets

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014 - 11:31 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 6, 2014 - 8:46 am

People too busy to get to Ash Wednesday church services this week were able to get their Ashes to Go.

In Sacramento and cities across the country on Wednesday, clergy took to sidewalks, parks, street corners and transit stops in their pastoral regalia to place ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of anyone who stopped by.

In downtown Sacramento, the pastors of St. John’s Lutheran Church at 1701 L Street worked the sidewalk in front of stately house of worship with ashes and a takeaway devotional pamphlet.

“We are there if folks on their morning commute just want to stop for prayer and to receive the ashes on their forehead before going to work,” said associate pastor the Rev. Leslie Welton.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, occurring 46 days before Easter. Ashes are marked on the forehead by a member of the clergy as a sign of penitence or mortality.

It is the first time St. John’s has participated in the Ashes to Go program. However, other congregations across the country have been on board for several years.

The movement began in 2010 in Chicago when three Episcopal congregations took ashes and prayer to suburban train stations. By 2012, more than 80 churches in 21 states were participating.

St. John’s Lutheran still had traditional Ash Wednesday services scheduled at 12:15 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral also participated in Ashes to Go. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., members of the church planned to be at four sites: in front of the cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave., outside the Capitol on 10th Street, outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 15th and J streets, and in Cesar Chavez Plaza.

Ashes to Go brings the church to the street and provides a link to ancient church ritual. Trinity’s the Rev. Megan Anderson calls the placing of ashes on the forehead “a beautiful practice.”

She said Ashes to Go has been well-received across the country by people who can’t make it to church on Ash Wednesday. It is also a good way to speak with people who have become distanced from the church or never experienced church at all, she said.

Sacramento’s Roman Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto marked the beginning of Lent with outdoor services and celebration, but the observances are not labled by the church as Ashes to Go.

Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.

Read more articles by Bill Lindelof

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