Time-starved Lakewood folks go to drive-up Ash Wednesday

Tacoma News TribuneMarch 5, 2014 

With a small bowl of ashes nearby, the Rev. Matt Gorman sat in the parking lot of his church on Ash Wednesday waiting for people to stop in for a quick swipe of his finger across their faces.

The encounters along Steilacoom Boulevard lasted all of 10 seconds – a liturgy was said, a smudged cross left in the center of a forehead – before visitors continued busy lives that included grandchildren’s birthday parties, school activities and other errands.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” the pastor said, quoting the biblical book of Genesis.

Wednesday marked the start of the season of Lent, when Christians reflect and repent in the weeks leading to Easter.

This less-than-traditional way for people to observe the occasion was a first for the United Methodist Church at Lakewood. The idea was to bring a meaningful ritual out of the sanctuary and into the streets.

“By the time people get home from work, they don’t want to get dressed and go to church service,” said Jerri Ecclestone, who regularly attends the church. “Not that they shouldn’t, but they don’t.”

“It’s super convenient during the day rather than the night when we have the kids and their schedules,” said church member Lisa Wells.

Wells stopped in the parking lot with husband Ed and two of their three daughters, including 6-week-old Hazel. The family of five was unable to attend the church’s evening service because their 9-year-old had a school event, Wells said.

“I like being able to mark the beginning of Lent,” she said.

Church members Ramona and Paul Johnson also stopped in quickly before continuing on their way to Mount Vernon to celebrate their granddaughter’s birthday.

If Gorman hadn’t set up in the parking lot, they would’ve had to forego the ashes this year.

“It doesn’t make it any different, whether it’s a sermon or stopping by out here,” Paul Johnson said. “I think both meet the purpose and the intent” of Ash Wednesday.

Ecclestone proposed the idea after seeing something similar while living in Texas. Her former church made its Ash Wednesday service portable, taking ashes to where people gathered – a line of food trucks during lunch hour.

She moved back to Lakewood this summer and suggested the idea to Gorman earlier this year.

“When people say ‘I’ve got an idea’, I listen,” Gorman said.

The trend of offering ashes on Ash Wednesday outside the confines of a traditional church has grown in popularity in recent years. In 2007 a group of clergy in St. Louis, Mo., created Ashes to Go after teasing they should create a drive-through for ashes.

The movement that brings the ritual to where people live their daily lives – suburban train stations, coffee shops and street corners – has received national and international attention in recent years.

The Lakewood congregation didn’t serve the hundreds of people reached by Ashes to Go, but they were happy with their first try. Beyond the handful of church members who stopped during the 90-minute period, the Methodists also reached a man walking by with a bicycle and another man coming from the food bank.

“We said if we get five people we’ll be happy,” said parish nurse Marsha Medlin. “It’s nice that we’re outside the doors of our church.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 Brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com

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