Taking Ashes to the Streets

So today was Ash Wednesday, and we took ashes from the midday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square to the streets of downtown Toronto. We’d done it a few years ago–when I had a curate and an intern–and had already decided to do it again this year, when, a couple weeks ago, I received a call from a producer of the CBC radio program Tapestry, who had read about the ashes-to-go that Sara Miles writes about in her new book, City of God. They were going to be interviewing her for the show, and had googled to see who in Toronto might be doing it as well. Long and short, Diane Eros came with her digital recorder to the service today and then joined Deacon Prof. Dr. Alison Kemper and me as we headed out into the cold, but sunny, afternoon. Alison had some intelligence about the early morning ashes-to-go distribution at the Westin Go Station. There were four Anglican clergy there: one in vestments and the others in civvies with stoles. The feedback was that people had trended to the clergy in civvies and stoles, so we, too, conducted an experiment: I, in a black suit and purple stole, and Alison in dalmatic, stole, cappa nigra, and purple toque. No meaningful statistics, though, because, as I observed the last time, when you are walking single file as we were–not in a flank formation–the first person has a sort of John-the-Baptist role, proclaiming “Ashes for Ash Wednesday.” Some of the receptive people we encountered needed the 20 feet past the point person to process the offer and conclude that it was OK to accept the ashes from the second person who was offering them (Alison). A volunteer who had come to the service joined us to hand out a flyer we had developed to accompany the event, inviting people to join us for the whole of Lent.

The Tapestry program will air this Sunday (March 9th) at 2:00 PM on CBC One in Toronto. It will also be able to be podcast.

— Sherman Hesselgrave