The New Northeast

tracking the Spirit in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine

Ash Wednesday stories from beyond our church doors

The Rev. Suzanne Cole offers Ashes to Go to a young person in downtown Wilton.

On Ash Wednesday, February 14, clergy and lay people in ten Maine communities shared the start of the Lenten season with their neighbors by offering Ashes to Go on street corners, along the road, and in the public square.

Tim Higgins, the rector of St. Ann’s in Windham, was joined by Deacons Wendy Rozene and Cindy Beaulieu in Windham outside the local Amatos and near the post office. He said, “I am filled with gratitude to God for this amazing ministry. There is something about praying with perfect strangers on the sidewalk that is humbling and gratifying all at the same time.

Deacons Wendy Rozene and Cindy Beaulieu offer a blessing and ashes in Windham.

“I had a wonderful conversation with a gal about Ash Wednesday, the Lenten Season, and importance of faith in our lives. I then asked if she wanted to receive ashes and be prayed with and she said, ‘I’m in retail and a smudge mark on my forehead the rest of the day is not a good look, so no thanks.'”

Slightly off the beaten track in Yarmouth, St. Bart’s rector, Nina Pooley, stood with an Ashes to Go sign by the road. She told a different story, “A mom and her middle school son swung in on their way to school. They jumped out of the car and asked for their ashes. It was very intentional and it was that moment when I realized THAT’S why I was there. To do this for them. Our community in is in deep mourning after a recent suicide and if this helps this one family find some healing… it is a holy, holy Lent.”

At Monument Square in Portland, Dean of St. Luke’s Cathedral, Ben Shambaugh, and Larry Weeks, rector of Trinity Church and St. Peter’s, were in the thick of people going about their business on a busy weekday. Shambaugh shared, “I had a young mom with two kids jump out of a car and make a beeline toward me, ‘We really wanted to do this,’ she said. I had a college student say, ‘I am on the way to class. I’m afraid it wouldn’t be taken very well.’ Then she said turned back and said, ‘Let’s go ahead!'”

Ash Wednesday fell on Valentines Day, for the first time in 73 years, as the heart in the background shows. This photo, by Portland Press Herald photographer Gregory Rec, made the front page of the local section on Wednesday.

He added, “People are hungry for a blessing, to know that there is something more, to feel loved. It’s not penitential for them but a sign of hope. And it was very cool to have the huge heart hanging from the library in the backdrop!”

Weeks, who organized the first Ashes to Go in the Diocese of Maine seven years ago, explained to a reporter for a segment on WMTW-8, “We want the Church to be a public entity to offer to everyone, whether they are Christians or not, to come and maybe have a conversation around what it means to have a changing heart.”

Ashes to Go were also offered by clergy from Grace Church, Bath; St. Paul’s, Brunswick; St. James, Old Town; St. Peter’s, Rockland; St. Luke’s, Wilton;  and St. Andrew’s, Winthrop.

The Rev. Susan Taylor, vicar of St. Andrew’s in Winthrop, was featured in a story in the Kennebec Journal headlined, “Winthrop priest offers “Ashes 2 Go” downtown as sign of love.”

Across Maine on Ash Wednesday, Episcopal churches marked the start of the Lenten season in, perhaps, more traditional ways. As Maria Hoecker, rector of St. Columba’s in Boothbay Harbor, where services were held indoors, put it, “We offer opportunities for meaningful prayer and worship for two or more gathered together. I truly believe folks who are able are hungering to be invited to enter into our sacred sanctuary spaces now more than ever.”

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