On Ash Wednesday, some ministers took to the streets for Ashes to Go
The Rev. Gary Lyon didn't worry about the forecast of rain on Ash Wednesday.
He bought a small folding shelter to use at the second annual Ashes to Go event in Leechburg.
Lyon and his wife, Lisa, who also is a pastor at Cross Roads Community Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Leechburg, spent about 45 minutes around lunchtime talking with pedestrians along Market Street.
At one point, two women requested ashes and prayer. The Rev. Lisa Lyon traced the symbol of the cross on their foreheads while her husband explained the message behind the ashes and prayed.
“On Ash Wednesday, we invite people to repent of past wrongdoings and seek forgiveness and renewal,” he said.
Rather than just scheduling Ash Wednesday services at their churches, some clergy offer outreach programs in which they take to the streets when there are sure to be plenty of passers-by.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Lyonses moved to a busy Leechburg corner, First and Main streets, to give ashes and a prayer to motorists who pulled up briefly. The cross made in ash is a symbol of hope and promise, Gary Lyon said.
Christians observe Ash Wednesday as the first day of the Lenten season, a time of fasting and repentance. Catholics and many Protestants use ashes.
In Leechburg, some people who received ashes from the Lyons were Catholic but said they couldn't attend an Ash Wednesday Mass because of work or family responsibilities.
The Revs. Scott Shaffer and Ben Phipps of Faith United Methodist Church in Fox Chapel offered ashes outside their church's community center in downtown Sharpsburg.
“We started at 10 a.m.,” Shaffer said. “It's traditional for United Methodists and others, for years.
“Fewer people are attending churches, so we take this sacred moment to them.”
Last year, Phipps climbed aboard a bus to put ashes on the forehead of the driver, and later he distributed ashes to a mail carrier, Shaffer said.
In downtown Pittsburgh, clergy from Trinity Cathedral on at Sixth Avenue distributed ashes in Market Square from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
“We were at the Mt. Lebanon T station earlier,” said Erin Morley, the cathedral's director of communications. “We met people and wished them a good day. Even if they didn't stop for ashes, they smiled because they knew God loves them.”
She said a Port Authority driver briefly left his empty bus to receive ashes.
Some clergy started distributing ashes earlier in the day.
About 45 people stopped along Lincoln Way in White Oak between 6 to 9 a.m., said the Rev. William Ryan, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in White Oak.
“It was pretty steady,” he said of the visitors. “Last year, it was almost all Roman Catholics, and two from our church. This year, it was about 50-50. We used ashes on foreheads and said a prayer. Sometimes they asked for special prayers, too.
“We had teachers, nurses and baby-sitters. We were planting seeds.”
The Rev. Jessica McClure Archer of the Sampson's Mills Presbyterian Church across Lincoln Way from Faith Lutheran, also participated.
“It's a wonderful ministry of presence,” Archer said. “This is being more like Jesus. Being out in the community and praying with folks.”