In Market Square on Wednesday, you can get your ashes to go.
Bishop Dorsey McConnell, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, along with the Rev. Canon Dr. Catherine Brall and possibly other Episcopal priests from Trinity Cathedral, will visit the Downtown square for an hour on Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the start of the Christian observance of Lent. The clergy will distribute ashes -- traditionally a symbol of repentance and renewal -- to anyone who would like them.
The idea of "Ashes to Go" began at an Episcopal diocese in Missouri a few years ago, according to their website. Since then, the practice has spread across the country. Bishop McConnell, who assumed his position 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."
On Wednesday, he will first distribute ashes in the traditional way, at a service in Trinity Cathedral, Downtown, at noon. 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, it 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 only difference is that there may be colder, wetter or windier weather to deal with than exists inside a church.
It will be Bishop McConnell's first time distributing ashes outside, and 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.