Episcopal church offers 'Ashes to Go' to its flock

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This Ash Wednesday, Bishop Dorsey McConnell is thinking outside the church.

Building, that is.

Today, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, along with the Rev. Catherine Brall and possibly other Episcopal priests from Trinity Cathedral, will visit Market Square, Downtown, to mark the day that begins the Christian observance of Lent. The clergy will distribute ashes, traditionally a symbol of repentance and renewal.

Anyone who would like them can get ashes to go.

This year is the first time the Episcopal church in Pittsburgh is bringing ashes to the streets on Ash Wednesday. But the practice has been spreading to different Episcopal dioceses throughout the country in recent years.

The idea of "Ashes to Go" began at an Episcopal diocese in Missouri a few years ago, according to a website about the event.

Bishop McConnell, who was consecrated as leader of the diocese in October, heard about the event and decided it fit well with his vision for the local church.

"One of the things I've been focusing on since I got here was to encourage our churches in every possible way to stop looking inwardly and look outward, and get into the world and into the public square," he said. "Meet the people who are not coming over the threshold yet. This seemed like a good way to act on it."

Today, he will first distribute ashes in the traditional way, at a noon service in Trinity Cathedral, Downtown. Then, he will travel to Market Square to provide ashes from 1 to 2 p.m., "in front of God and everybody," he said.

Just as he did inside, outside he will spread ashes onto a person's forehead in the sign of a cross, saying the words, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."

Although it is outside the usual Ash Wednesday service, the act is still just as significant, he said.

"The ashes are just a sign of something much greater, which is the mercy and the hope of God, and everybody needs that," he said. "The place for that is not just at church, but in life."

The major difference: There may be colder, wetter or windier weather to contend with today than exists inside a church.

Although it will be Bishop McConnell's first time distributing ashes outside, he pointed out that most of Jesus' ministry was on the street, rather than in the temple.

"Whenever the church follows him, we always do better," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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