Since 2010, more people in Edmonton have been reached each year by Ashes to Go – an initiative offering prayers, renewal and grace to train commuters and pedestrians on Ash Wednesday. This year 550 people took pause at the start of their day to receive ashes from teams of Anglicans and Lutherans situated at five LRT stations, along 124th Street and at West Edmonton Mall, well surpassing last year’s total of 450.
“All of us had important conversations with people today,” said Bishop Jane Alexander, who joined Archdeacon Chris Pappas downtown at 6:00 am for an interview with CBC Radio host Mark Connelly before heading over to Churchill Station.
“Sometimes, as clergy, we need to be reminded what a privilege it is to be invited into the midst of people’s lives and offer a sign of hope,” she said.
Standing head and shoulders above the rest of his team, the Dean of Edmonton Neil Gordon might have appeared an imposing figure at the top of the escalator, yet more than 75 people gravitated to him to sign their foreheads.
“This has been very positive,” said Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church Pastor Ingrid Dorschel of her first experience offering Ashes to Go, a reminder that humility and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building. “People have been asking some great existential questions. One person asked me if receiving ashes will help them lead a better life. I told them it will strengthen you and remind you that you are God’s creation and, as such, you are loved and appreciated.”
Anglican deacon Scott Sharman, priest Chelsy Bouwman and layreader Bethanne O’Neil stood for nearly three hours in the unheated pedway connecting Southgate Shopping Centre with the train platform, and found people, in general, to be grateful for the reminder of Ash Wednesday and the opportunity to start Lent off on good footing.
Along 124th Street, just steps from the ashes of the Roxy Theatre (an Edmonton landmark consumed by fire last month), Christ Church clergy Maureen Crerar, Sarah Holmstrom and Arlene Young received many honks and waves from motorists, as they offered ashes to pedestrians.
“Being a presence in our church neighbourhood is wonderfully enriching,” said Canon Crerar. She planned to make her way to a nearby seniors’ lodge, taking Ashes to Go one step and several streets further.
You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19