Father Derrick of Saint Andrew’s was interviewed by the media the day before, and channel 22 came out to cover us. As a result, lots more people knew what we were doing than in previous years. When Father Derrick arrived (before me), people were waiting for him. One couple drove down from Easthampton. Lots of people mentioned that they learned about us from the news.
I don’t want to overly romanticize the experience. We still had times when we just stood there, waiting. Plenty of people declined our invitation to receive ashes. No one was rude, but a few seemed put off.
Still, we had a steady stream of people, most of whom were clearly grateful for an opportunity to experience Ash Wednesday at least briefly even though they couldn’t get to Church. Perhaps my favorite encounter was with a man and his small child. I ashed them both, and they left. A few minutes later, he drove up so that I could also ash his wife. As we wrapped up, Father Derrick and I went into a coffee shop, at the invitation of the owner, to ash the employees. She then gave us each a cup of coffee and a pastry.
Ashes to go turned out to be a wonderful start to a wonderful day for me. In addition to two regular services, I also visited a couple of people in care facilities. At both, a staff member and other residents also requested ashes and a blessing.
The whole day was a reminder that people are hungry for some kind of connection to God. That definitely includes people who won’t go to Church, for whatever reason. And yet many of them welcome us when we come to them offering them Church practices that can provide that connection. It was great to be some small part of that yesterday.