Ashes to Go – A Reflection

In this weeks Church Times there are pictures of Church of England bishops offering to ash people on the streets of their towns and cities. Ashes To Go could become a significant part of our worshipping and witnessing life across the Anglican Communion.

The Rev. Emily Mellott of Calvary Church in Lombard, Illinois began Ashes to Go in 2007, but it was only in 2013 that it turned into a movement. She has faced criticism as well as plaudits and for some it will seem to offer an excuse to the lazy to avoid church and feel good about themselves. But Ashes To Go is far more significant than that and for some it is transforming.

Ashes To Go is a living sign of the going out we talk about in Chapter 7 of Living Reconciliation. It is a step outside our comfort zones to bear the mark of repentance and forgiveness in the world in which we live. The ash cross is a sign seen not only by a faithful few, but by our work colleagues, our families and those we encounter in shops and cafes.

Emily puts it like this:

I go out with Ashes to Go because of the community that is formed and defined at the train station. There, strangers connect with other strangers – tipped into a “congregation” with fellow commuters by the act of receiving ashes in this secular sacred space. And members of my congregation experience the powerful connection to the community of all God’s people, sharing ashes and prayer with people to whom it would never occur to them to speak of God at any other time. The power of mortality, repentance, and reconciliation sinks in to our hearts even more deeply when our own thumb makes the cross of ashes on someone else’s forehead, when we discover that we have the power to communicate God’s presence, and God’s invitation. Members of my congregation from 14 to 74 discover the evangelist within themselves and within each other, reflected in the eyes and hearts of strangers to whom we offer ashes, one by one. And we recognize God’s children in our unknown neighbors – deepening our definition of community in a way that begins to reflect the kingdom of God just a bit better than the faces in our pews could alone.

Living Reconciliation means seeking opportunities to build the kingdom in the world in which we live, not just in the churches where we worship.

Read more about Ashes To Go here.