Taking Ash Wednesday to the Neighbourhood

Following the 12:15 Ash Wednesday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, Nola Crewe (our Assistant Curate), Wendy Telfer (a Trinity College student doing her post-internship here), and I headed out onto Trinity Square into the wet falling snow in our vestments armed only with our little containers of freshly incinerated palm fronds from the 2010 Palm Sunday liturgy, to offer the imposition of ashes to anyone who desired them.

The idea to do so had been suggested after the Ash Wednesday service last year, so we decided to try it this year and see what would happen.  Our route was a loop from Trinity Square to Dundas Street, east to Yonge, south to Queen, west to James, and back to the Church.  The announcement was simple: “Ashes for Ash Wednesday!”  Several dozen people stopped in the snow to receive their ashes and the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A drummer who was busking by the Eaton Centre asked “What is Ash Wednesday?,” and after the explanation, asked for ashes, but hoped he wouldn’t be returning to dust anytime soon.  Amen to that.

As we crossed Shuter Street, there was a steady flow of folks coming from the direction of St Michael’s Cathedral, all bearing the distinctive mark of the day.

A couple in an SUV stopped on Yonge Street and both passenger and driver asked Nola Crewe for ashes.  Fortunately, traffic was light.  The last thing we needed was a citation for obstruction, although since Nola is also an officer of the court, I assumed we could probably wiggle out of it.

One tip to others who might want to try this: do not use the phalanx formation.  What seemed to work best was one of us walking about 20 feet ahead of the other two.  Frequently, a person would decline ashes from our John the Baptist only to accept them from one of the two following behind.  We’re thinking they needed a couple seconds to process the idea before deciding it would be OK to say Yes.

I had seen an Episcopal News Service article about taking ashes to the streets in Chicago, but I thought the photo of the sign “Ashes to Go” was not quite the message we were trying to send.

We look forward to making ashes of ourselves again next year.


Schedule: 12:15 PM  Ash Wednesday liturgy; Potluck supper at 6:30 PM followed by a bilingual Ash Wednesday liturgy with the San Esteban community at 7:30 PM.