Ash Wednesday, blessedly not raining, was bright with early spring sunshine which was welcomed because we went out on the road that afternoon. Signed with ashes, reminded that we are of earth and to earth we shall return, we gathered after the Eucharist, robed in albs and blessed by the community, to take ashes and the invitation to repentance and reconciliation to the neighbourhood.
“Frankly, I was anxious about going out.” reflects John Marsh, priest of the merging communities of St. Mark/St. George’s, Vancouver, “I was very aware of our secular West Coast religious/spiritual landscape and I didn’t know how this would be received.” But he knew that they were on to something when he headed out the church door at W. 14th & Laurel less than 2 minutes after the first team had left to find them out on the sidewalk already busy imposing ashes on two passersby!
A second team maked their way to the busy transit hub of Broadway and Cambie. Everyone there is always very intent on going somewhere else. Many people hurried by, avoiding eye contact. Others, though, paused to read the posters displayed, some even took the printed flyer we had supplied offering more details. Questions were asked, conversations engaged, ashes offered and, sometimes, accepted. Other people dashed up and whipped off their hats or pull back their hair expectantly. Teenagers from the nearby Catholic high school, with tell-tale smudges still faint on their foreheads, smile in recognition. One man rushed past, then doubled back and took off his hat, ruefully remarking that he was late for his meeting anyway – he might as well go in with ashes of repentance. ”Remember you are dust . . .”
Everyone who participated in offering ashes returned to the church excited by the experience. As one participant observed, “Touching the forehead of a stranger with ashes was deeply human – and deeply holy”.
“We will definitely do it again next year,” said Marsh, “We took our faith out beyond the comfortable confines of the church building and engaged people where they live”.
By Pam Martin
Photos – Jade Martin Seedhouse.