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Oklahoma churches offer Ash Wednesday religious ritual to go

The imposition of ashes that is part of the traditional Ash Wednesday observance is going mobile, with several Oklahoma clergy making plans to move it outside the four walls of the church.
by Carla Hinton Published: February 13, 2013

A centuries-old ritual will move beyond the four walls of the church as several metro-area clergy take the traditional Ash Wednesday observance to the streets.

At St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, the Rev. Joseph Alsay, rector, said his church will participate in Ashes to Go, a nationwide initiative started in 2007 by an Episcopal rector in St. Louis.

Alsay said he and a deacon will stand in the parking lot of the church, 14700 N May Ave., from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to offer the imposition of ashes to people as they drive by.

Alsay said one of his church members jokingly referred to the short take on the traditional ritual as “ash and dash.”

“It's evangelism, believe it or not,” Alsay said.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Christian season of Lent. It is the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday.

Ashes used to observe the day often come from the burning of palm leaves used during Palm Sunday services the previous year. During Ash Wednesday services at churches around the world, the ashes are placed on the forehead of congregants in the sign of the cross.

The words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” remind believers of their mortality — that they are on Earth for a short time.

Alsay said he thought the Ashes to Go idea was a novel approach to outreach. He said he thinks some people may stop by for the Ash Wednesday ritual because it is convenient or because they want to participate in the religious observance but do not attend church.

Reaching out to students, workers

The ritual also will go mobile in other ways in the state.

The Rev. Michael Stephenson, interim rector at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Stillwater, said he offered the imposition of ashes to students and other passers-by on the Oklahoma State University campus last year as part of Ashes to Go. Stephenson said a chaplain for the Canterbury Association ministry on the OSU campus planned to do the same this year in front of the Chi-O Clock from 10 to 10:30 a.m. and from 2 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“The idea is to take at least elements of the church to where people are, as opposed to waiting for them to come to the church,” Stephenson said. “We need to be a visible presence out in the community and creatively reaching out in the community.”

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by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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