One by one, cars pulled up in front of Table of Hope Metropolitan Community Church and rolled down their windows.
The Rev. Jackie Carter, pastor of the church, and Shaun-Michael Morse, worship director, rushed up to the open windows, marking the sign of the cross on the forehead of drivers and passengers in ash. Some also took communion.
“May you go forth on this day and live a life that has been forgiven and renewed by Jesus Christ,” Carter said before people drove away.
It was the first time Table of Hope has offered ashes at the curb, a growing “ashes to go” trend that has ranged from California to Alabama.
Morse joked that it was a little bit like a fast-food drive-through, with the church offering two choices of ashes: regular ash or glitter ash, the latter in support of LGBT Christians. For communion bread, the church offered two choices as well: gluten-free or regular.
Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter, marking the beginning of Lent. The practice of receiving ashes as a symbol of repentance and a reminder of a human being’s eventual return to dust has spread beyond Catholic, Anglican and Episcopal churches into many other congregations like Table of Hope.
Driving by on his lunch break, Richard Laurinec rolled down his window and asked for regular ashes, traditionally made from burned palm fronds.
A Catholic, Laurinec said he decided to take Table of Hope up on its offer of ashes “to go” since he works until 6 p.m., then has classes after work. Because of his schedule, he won’t be able to attend an Ash Wednesday church service.
“I’m sure a lot of people won’t like me doing it, but I can’t miss it (receiving the ashes),” Laurinec said.
Having his forehead marked with ash means “everything” to his faith, Laurinec said before driving back to work.
Some who arrived to receive ashes said they chose to do so because they wouldn’t be able to attend an Ash Wednesday service. Others were members of Table of Hope who would have attended an indoor service.
For some, the rites offered by the curb were more accessible than they would have been indoors, since Table of Hope must be entered by a flight of stairs.
Carter, the church’s pastor, said she hoped offering ashes at the curb might also encourage people who have been hurt by the church and who may not be comfortable entering a church building.
“This creates space that we’re all very comfortable in, out of doors,” Carter said. “It makes it far more accessible for people who don’t have a faith background but want to at least explore what would faith look like. That’s our hope.”