In short the answer is “Go.”
My response to everyone that has asked me has been the same: “I could have stayed out there all day.” The question was about Ashes to Go.
So here’s the deal. The location we chose wasn’t the best – a Metro stop would have been much better. The weather didn’t cooperate. It was cold, there was lots of snow on the ground and most people hurried by on their way to their destinations.
But we learned some things. The most important was that just standing there wasn’t going to garner any customers. We had to be more aggressive – to lean toward people and ask, “Would you like to receive ashes for Ash Wednesday?” Most people’s ears were plugged with ear buds and walked on by as that old song goes. I’d say about a hundred of them. But about ten didn’t. And ten is a good number. Ten was enough to keep God from destroying Sodom, anyway. When the first person stopped and said, “Yes, I would,” my heart leapt. Even just one person receiving ashes would have made me glad. With even one “yes” I would have thought the same: “I could stay out here all day…” Never mind the 99, as Jesus said (Matthew 18.12-14).
Other things to know? It’s interesting taking the church out into the world. It makes you think more about what you are doing and saying and what that might mean in the world that is not surrounded by stained glass… What does this sacrament offer to that world? Will/do the words mean that mean so much inside the church mean/do anything outside of it?
I had decided the night before to just trust the words. Not to come up with a script in order to explain them. If someone asked what the ashes meant I was prepared to say that the church wants you to remember that you are alive, thanks be to God. But nobody asked. Most just passed by. Except for those those ten. One woman, who didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand what I was asking (as I stood begging with a plastic bowl of ashes in my hands) took out her purse and offered two dollars – alms. Irony?
Next year I would like to be out there all day. But should we wait that long?