February 22nd, 2012
10:47 PM ET
By Gabe LaMonica, CNN
(CNN) - Got ashes?
If not on this Ash Wednesday, groups of Methodists and Episcopalians took to the streets in cities across the country to make sure you got them, representing a growing ashes-on-the-run movement.
In Washington, Julie Bringman of the Foundry United Methodist Church led a group of four Methodists outside the Dupont Circle Metro station with manila folders emblazoned with the question “Got Ashes?” in black ink.
“It’s kind of a little ashes flash mob,” she said.
Emily Mellott, the pastor of Cavalry Episcopal Church in Lonbard, Illinois, runs a website callled ashestogo.org, which provides resources for “folks starting to take ashes to the streets.”
Mellot has heard from 85 churches in 22 states “I know there are more out there that have heard of the idea and developed their own resources and there are others who have taken it and run with it,” she said in an interview.
“We started doing ashes to go at the train station 3 yrs ago,” Mellot said. “It’s becoming a movement that’s growing throughout the country.”
On Ash Wednesday 2007, the Rev. Teresa KM Danieley of St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis, Missouri, started distributing ashes outside a coffeehouse, an event that some credit with starting the movement.
On Wednesday, the Rev. Patricia Anderson Cook of Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, offered drive-thru ashes in her church’s parking lot, reported Cincinnati affiliate WLWT.
Cook said that “there was some pushback because people said, ‘Oh, you need to come to a sanctuary and do this.’”
“I’m not sure that’s really what Jesus would have said,” Cook said.
Bringman said that the ashes-on-the-go movement was born of practical need. “A lot of people forget that it’s Ash Wednesday or don’t know where to go or don’t have time to show up,” she said, standing amid the morning rush in Washington.
“We thought that we would bring Ash Wednesday to the streets and make it open to anyone,” said Bringman.
Janice Robinson-Harper, who stopped to get ashes from Bringman’s group, said, “I’m planning to go to church on my lunch break, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go, so just in case I don’t, that was my opportunity.”
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, a season of reflection in the run-up to Easter.
“You come from dust and you will return to dust, beloved child of God," said Sam Hedlund, using his thumb to make the sign of the cross in ash on Robinson-Harpers’ forehead.
“It’s basically just a reminder of who we are and where we come from as Christians,” said Serge Thomas, who also got ash from Hedlund.
“I think about a dozen people received the ashes, but I think the effect of the people who walked by and saw it or thought about it or who already had ashes from this morning and then saw companionship in us here, I think that the ripple effect was much larger than the dozen people who received the ashes,” said Bringman.
Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops said there was not a Catholic ashes-on-the-go program: “We feel that ashes should be part of a liturgical service whether it is mass or a service of the word.”
But asked if it was wrong to receive ashes at a metro station, she said, “Personally, no I don’t think so.”
“My brother was a lazy college kid who took the ashes from my forehead and put them on his,” she said.
“Obviously the ashes are a public sign of repentance,” Walsh said, “and if you promise yourself that you’re going to clean up your life some how, you’re close to the spirit of it but we really do believe that it belongs in a sacred environment surrounded by prayer.”
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