Got ashes? Chicago church takes Lent to the streets
Brittany Isaac marks a cross of ashes.
With handmade signs that read “Got Ashes?” members of Urban Village United Methodist Church took to the streets of Chicago on March 9 to commemorate Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. They offered to mark a cross of ashes on the forehead of anyone who asked to receive it.
The Rev. Trey Hall, pastor of Urban Village, joined three- and four-person teams at six sites across Chicago. He says the gist of the teams’ invitation was simple: “Everybody’s welcome – Catholic, Protestant, gay, straight, everyone.”
Locations included rail stations, busy intersections and Daley Plaza. Banners at the sites read “Urban Village Church: Doing Church Differently.”
The 1-year-old church has members from a variety of faith backgrounds, including some who are new to the Christian faith.
The church explains on its website that the cross of ashes is “a reminder that we are finite, that each of us has only a short stretch of time on this good earth, and that we should therefore live it well.”
In all, nearly 300 people received ashes – including two people who were waiting in their car for a stoplight to change.
Hall says that many of the people likely had at least a basic understanding of Ash Wednesday. Others were not as familiar, but were intrigued by what they saw.
“We answered people’s real questions: ‘What is Lent?’ ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘What is this about?’” Hall said. “If we can reach people who wouldn’t be in church anyway (on Ash Wednesday), then it gives us a chance to talk.”
Hall finds an example in John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement. Wesley is known for conducting much of his ministry outside of churches.
“Wesley was successful in connecting (people outside the church) to the larger, more mature Christian story.”
Even some longtime United Methodists were able to be a part of Urban Village’s Ash Wednesday observance. Chris Crook, a member of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, was visiting Chicago on Ash Wednesday.
“I was worried that I could not attend an Ash Wednesday service this year,” Crook said. He received his ashes on Michigan Avenue – and then he shared the details with his Facebook friends.
Hall and his church members are pleased to have offered individuals a connection to God that they might not have felt otherwise. He added, "Perhaps, by God’s grace, a tiny seed was planted."
- By Ben Rhodes
• Lent 101Originally Posted: Apr 27, 2011