I’ve been writing about religion and churches for almost twenty years, and this is a first, as far as I know. Never have I heard of a church going out, on Ash Wednesday, to meet the people where they are to provide this sacrament.
This past week I was invited by the Rev. Dr. Lin Lilley, Rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church to accompany her, and others from the Church as they made the imposition of ashes available at the Five Points Sun Metro transfer station.
“I have to work,” says Rosa, “so I can’t make it to my church to get my ashes. This is important to me as it marks the start of change for me. I’m glad they are here.”
Rev. Lilley and her team were able to impose ashes on eighty-one people between 2 and 4 pm.
While I was with them, on several occasions, people who were driving by would pull over to receive their ashes. Others, like Rosa, were riding to and from work, or school, and this was convenient.
“I couldn’t do it last year,” said Jose Zamora. “I had to work, and with the schedule of the busses, I just couldn’t go last year. This was a blessing to have them here.”
Rev. Lin Lilley was joined by Rosetta Sampson, who is visiting from Gambia, Africa, as well as Loretta Lopez, Michael Borunda and Francesca Wigle, all laypersons from St. Alban’s.
I asked Rev. Lilley why it was important for her and the Church of St. Alban’s to go out, into the community, to impose ashes on Ash Wednesday.
“In public settings,” says Rev. Lilley, “Episcopalians are often better at doing church than talking about church. Our liturgy gives us powerful and yet easily portable symbols that allow us to take the church to the people in the midst of their daily life.”
Rev. Lilley has been imposing ashes as part of “Ashes to Go” for the past six years. This was the first time it was done in El Paso.
I also visited Guardian Angel Catholic Church, and Father Jesus Ma Mena Isla, OAR.
This past Sunday I explored the meaning of Ash Wednesday and its significance, with Fr. Isla. (You can read that article here).
During Fr. Isla’s homily, he called the members of his parish to repentance and forgiveness. The focus of his message was that Lent is a time to seek the forgiveness of G-d for what you have done wrong, with a firm desire to not repeat those same acts in the future. He also pointed out that one should also forgive those who may have wrong you.
I also learned that Fr. Isla imposes the ashes a little bit differently.
“I place them on the top of the head,” he said. “Placing them on the forehead is tradition. From what I understand, from scripture, is the ashes were placed on the head. The forehead is not the head.”
All throughout the distribution and imposition of ashes, he would first sprinkle them on the head before making the Sign of the Cross on the Forehead.
From Rev. Lilley and Fr. Isla I have learned that the Christian view of Ash Wednesday, as well as Lent, is forgiveness. A time to forgive those who have wronged you, as well as a time to seek the forgiveness of those you may have hurt or wronged.
Forgiveness is something I think we can all use. We shouldn’t hold on to past wrongs, allowing them to grow and fester within us. All that is going to do is make angry, bitter individuals.
We also need the forgiveness of others. Far too often I’ve seen people who are too proud to apologize until it’s too late and a friendship or relationship is beyond repair. It’s easy to apologize and ask forgiveness. It’s harder, I think, to keep it all bottled up inside.
So after a week, visiting with different ministers I’ve learned that Ash Wednesday is the start of a call to repentance and forgiveness.
Next, I’ll be exploring Purim, Easter, and Passover.
This article is part of a yearlong series collectively called A Year of. Throughout the year Steven Cottingham will be meeting with individuals and bringing you their stories of faith found around the Borderland.
If you would like to be a part of this series, you can contact Steven by calling 915- 201- 0918 or sending an e-mail to Steven@StillGoingSomewhere.com