Church offers ‘Ashes to Go’ on Ash Wednesday

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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The Rev. Tom Warne isn’t too surprised that people are so surprised by “Ashes to Go.”

“People’s perception is that the church stays ‘in there,'” he said on the sidewalk outside the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Vancouver’s Ellsworth neighborhood, on Ash Wednesday. That’s the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection and repentance in many Christian sects that culminates in the Holy Week leading up to Easter. The tradition is to smudge people’s foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross as a reminder of mortality — and eternity.

But Warne didn’t want to make it too solemn an occasion. “Life is serious enough,” he said. “Let’s make this about joy and love and grace.”

So Warne hung out streetside, offering grins and waves to passers-by, hoping that some would stop for a drive-by smudge and intonation of “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

“Jesus never had a church building,” he said. “He was itinerant. He was out and about with the people. He went wherever it took him. So we are taking this literally to where the people are — driving home after a day at work.”

According to the website AshesToGo.org, the idea was born in 2007 in St. Louis, Mo., and eventually blossomed into an international Ashes To Go movement. On Wednesday, Episcopal churches throughout Western Washington participated.

Easter Sunday is April 5 this year.