This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is a period of time when many Christians prepare for Easter. It is common to attend a church service on that day, and as part of the service, ashes are placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross to remind congregants of their sinfulness and need for redemption and repentance.
I have some holy envy when it comes to Ash Wednesday, so I often try to stop in somewhere for a service because I find it all very meaningful. However, I’m in the middle of moving, my assistant is on vacation, and I’m swamped at work. As a result, I wasn’t able to go to a service this year.
I was at Starbucks on Wednesday evening, in between work and a trip to Ikea, when I saw two clergy members at a table outside with a sign that said “Ashes to Go”. I walked over to say hello, and they asked me if I wanted ashes. I said yes. One of them placed the ashes on my forehead and said a prayer. “You are a beloved child of God, and you are marked with the cross of Christ forever…” There was some stuff about ashes and dust, but none of that registered.
I was moved almost to tears by the pronouncement. At church, we sing “I am a child of God”. But there was something more meaningful about another person declaring me to be a child of God. And not just any child, but a beloved one. And the cleric proclaimed me as belonging to Christ forever. He didn’t conduct any sort of worthiness interview. He didn’t ask me where or if I go to church. I’m Christ’s because I want to be, and that’s enough.
He gave me a flier that had a short summary of the purpose of ashes on Ash Wednesday. The flier also said that the reason they were out in the streets offering ashes is because while it’s good to go to church, not everyone can do that, and God is bigger than a building.
They’re bringing God to the people as a way to bring people to God.
I wonder what that would look like in the context of LDS practice. I think the ministering program is intended to do that, but in practice I’ve seen it just play out as home/visiting teaching with a new name.
What can we do as a church to broaden our outreach and bring the love of God to the people around us? How can we better reach people where they are?