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Episcopal churches offering "Ashes to Go" for quicker start to Lent

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, a 40-day period during which many faithful prepare for Easter through spiritual introspection, penance and self-denial. While many were planning to attend a church service in order to receive the traditional ashes on their foreheads, some places of worship - including Calvary Episcopal Church in Williamsville - were offering "Ashes to Go."

Reverend Robert Harvey, Rector at Calvary Episcopal Church, offered "Ashes to Go" for five years at his previous church in Washington. This is the second year he is offering the quick dispensation of ashes at his Williamsville church. Last year, 108 people used the service.

This morning, those visiting to receive ashes included commuters on their way to work, a gentleman with a dog in the backseat and even a bicyclist who told Harvey he rides it every day, even in wintry weather.

"It means a lot to them to be able to come to the church, don't have to get out of the car. Some come right from their car, or their bike, and get their ashes," Harvey explained.

The ashes are a reminder to Christians of their mortality. As they receive them, they are told "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Some raise the question whether it's appropriate to simply receive ashes without the message provided in the gospel reading and sermon included in a full service.

Rev. Harvey was asked about the suggestions by some that "Ashes to Go" might be a little too convenient.

"I've heard that, too, and I felt that too. But this is an opportunity for us to get out into the streets where the people are," he replied. "Many people can't take off from work to be able to attend a service. This is an opportunity for people to come here, in this case the church's parking lot, to drive up, get their ashes from their car and get right back to work."

Similar "Ashes to Go" services were being offered Wednesday at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Buffalo and at Trinity Episcopal Church on Broadway on Lancaster through the early evening.

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