On Wednesday, March 1, a group of Episcopal clergy, including Maine Bishop the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, will take the traditional Ash Wednesday practice of the imposition of ashes from inside of church buildings out to the people on the streets of Portland, Rockland, Bath, Waterville, Windham, Brunswick, Winthrop, Wilton, and Farmington.
Started by Episcopal clergy in Chicago in 2007, Ashes to Go marks its sixth year in Maine communities. First offered on a commuter rail platform, the practice has spread to dozens of cities across the U.S.
“Not everyone is able to be in their church today. It’s a way of bringing the church’s presence outside a building and offering an opportunity for people to practice their faith as they go about their daily life and work,” said the Rev. Larry Weeks of Trinity Episcopal and St. Peter’s Episcopal Portland. In 2012 Weeks organized the first Ashes to Go in Portland. Each year more than 100 people, including many passers-by have availed themselves of the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing.
In Portland all who wish the imposition of ashes and a brief blessing are welcome at Monument Square from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bishop Lane will join clergy from several Portland-area congregations to offer Ash Wednesday blessings beginning at 11 a.m.
In Rockland – 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in front of Rock City Cafe and at other spots along Main Street with the Rev. Lael Sorensen and church leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
In Windham – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Windham Post Office parking lot on Route 302 by the Rev. Tim Higgins and the Rev. Wendy Rozene of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church
In Wilton – 9: a.m. to 9:30 a.m. near the Wilton Post Office by and in Farmington – Noon to 12:30 p.m. on Main Street near the Post Office by the Rev. Barbara Clarke of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
In Winthrop – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Winthrop Commerce Center on Main Street by the Rev. Jim Gill of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
In Brunswick – 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at Midcoast Hunger Prevention and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in front of the Bowdoin College Chapel by the Rev. Chick Carroll and the Rev. Mary Lee Wile of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
In Bath – 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the corner of Front and Center Streets by the Rev. Ted Gaiser of Grace Episcopal Church
In Waterville – 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Colby College’s Pulver Pavilion and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church’s Evening Sandwich Program at 69 Silver Street with the Rev. John Balicki of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and members of the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council.
In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. As a time of self-reflection for believers, Lent is often marked by prayer, penance, and charity.
The Rev. Tim Higgins, rector of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Windham, described his experience in past years as “one of the coolest ministries I have ever been involved with.” He added, “A jogger came through and stopped long enough to pray with us, receive his ashes and continue on his jog, while saying, ‘I’ve never done that before, thanks so much!’”
Weeks added, “We found that many people had forgotten that it was Ash Wednesday and welcomed the opportunity to receive ashes and a blessing. It’s high time we venture outside our church walls to offer hope, forgiveness, and healing to people who may still have a spiritual hunger but aren’t so sure about Church.”