Ashes to Go: Local Episcopal priest takes his Ash Wednesday show on the road |

Ashes to Go: Local Episcopal priest takes his Ash Wednesday show on the road

Father Brooks Keith provides ashes to Elizabeth Pappano on Ash Wednesday, 2016 in Vail. Brooks Wednesday again roamed Vail Villiage with a sign stating "ashes to go" for both locals and visitors who didn't have the time to make it to church.
Townsend Bessent | |

About Ash Wednesday

According to the gospels, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of that. Modern Christians often give up something important to them for 40 days as preparation for Easter.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

VAIL — When God told us to “go forth,” he might have meant something similar to Ashes to Go.

Rev. Brooks Keith took his Ash Wednesday show on the road, and blessed hundreds of people in Vail Village on the first day of Lent. Keith is the priest at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, which worships at the interfaith chapels in Vail, Beaver Creek and Edwards.

“I’m hard to miss. I’m the guy in the white robe with the sandwich sign that says ‘Ashes to Go,’” Keith said.

More than 500 people found Keith last year, and even more this year — from so many countries Keith lost count.

His hands get covered with ash, which, he said, is a good thing. As our sins, ash can be washed away.

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“We had grandparents ask, ‘How long will you be here?’ They brought back two or three generations of their family,” Keith said.

A couple got engaged Ash Wednesday last year on Vail Mountain, and were thrilled when they ran into Keith wearing his clerical clothes that afternoon. They were looking for some prayers to help them get started up the right path and an Ash Wednesday blessing. They got both.

Forty days to Easter

Ash Wednesday starts Lent, an ancient tradition beginning a 40-day process to prepare for Easter, celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

It’s also a reminder we are mortal, Keith said.

“We don’t have forever on this earth. It’s a reminder that we are from dust, and to dust we shall return,” Keith said.

The biblical parallel with Jesus is pretty obvious, even if you played hooky from Sunday school. Jesus tended to take his show on the road instead of waiting behind stained glass windows for people to find him.

Ashes to Go brings the service out of the chapel and into the community. If you’re old school, then they also had services all day in the chapel.

Ashes to Go started in Chicago and New York Episcopal churches about five years ago, when ministers wanted to follow the Lord’s good example.

“Clergy wanted to meet people where they are, and not just in the door of a church,” Keith said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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