Ashes Outside the Church


By Fred Koenig

The imposition of ashes is a Wednesday evening tradition for many, but others are now embracing the ritual as an opportunity to meet people where they are. 
Rev. Mark Harvey of Harmony UMC in St. Louis offers the sacrament of communion once a month as part of the weekly Wednesday worship service at Saint John’s Place nursing home. This year he had double duty. 
“We had our largest attendance to date,” Harvey said. “Many, including staff, wanted imposition of ashes. I incorporated the ashes liturgy into the Christ Movement of The (informal) Great Thanksgiving, so we could impose ashes and serve communion all as one act. Then we went to other staff on their work sites for imposition of ashes.”
It’s not just hospitals, nursing homes and shut-ins who are receiving ashes outside of church. As volunteer chaplain of the Manchester police department, for the past three years Rev. Steve Hargrave does the imposition of ashes during the afternoon shift change at the station so more officers have an opportunity to participate. This year one officer told him he hadn’t stopped during his shift for ashes, because he knew Hargraves would be there for him at the station later. 
The United Methodist Women were meeting in Jefferson City for their annual Legislative Training Event. While the women gathered in the Capitol Plaza ballroom, they all softly sang “Just As I Am” for the duration of everyone receiving their ashes. 
“That became the most wonderful blessing to me as I heard the old familiar song and one by one the women were singing as I placed the ashen cross on their forehead,” said Pastor Patti Tynes. 
Rev. Bryan Schaefer of Maple UMC in Cape Girardeau conducted the ritual in Panera Bread. Rev. Trista Soendker Nicholson, pastor of new generations at Missouri UMC, went down the block to speaker’s circle on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus and offered ashes to students as they walked to and from class.
Pastors from The Gathering in St. Louis were both in coffee shops and on campus. They also offered drive-through ashes, as did The Word at Shaw. 
“People were grateful and touched by our ability to meet them in the midst of their commutes and carpools,” said Rev. Linda Gastreich of The Gathering.