Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. As usual, we had three liturgies, with the noontime and evening one shared with our neighbors from Luther Memorial Church. Not as usual, the cathedral clergy took turns for one-hour blocks from 8 to 5 in the Cathedral to be available for walk-ins looking for ashes and/or prayer. Many came throughout the day. Even more not as usual, we joined the growing movement called Ashes to Go.
We distributed Ashes on the streets outside the Cathedral. On 6th Street, we face the Erie County Courthouse, and on 7th Street, we are the middle of the Gannon University Campus. Both places provide good opportunities to offer ashes. I took the early time on 6th Street. Bishop Sean Rowe took that site during the noon hour. Evan Clendenin, our Curate, took the 7th Street side at both times and he was joined by Shawn Clerkin who is on the Gannon faculty for the early time. It was a great experience all around.
I was struck by the deep gratitude of many who received ashes as they were going to work at the Courthouse or who had business there. It didn't at all come off as easy convenience, but rather as something truly important for people who probably wouldn't get to a full liturgy.
Among them I particularly think of one woman who came up to me saying, "What a great idea!" Then she asked, "Are you Catholic?" I spared her the 45 minute explanation she really wasn't asking for and just answered, "I'm Episcopalian." Then the Spirit stirred within and I added, "But we're all human, and that's what the ashes are about." She said, "I agree with you," and gratefully received the sign of our literal common ground. As I poke around the ruins, looking for signs of resurrection, I wonder if sharing ashes in the church and on the street might not be one.
We got lots of good and friendly media coverage, as happened around the country. Perhaps this kind of attention won't last too many years as it will cease to be a novelty. But for now, we can be grateful.
Here is a link to coverage by the Erie Times and another one.