Local Episcopal ministers take their Ash Wednesday ceremonies to the streets
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 — Like the Lord he serves, the Rev. Brooks Keith took his Ash Wednesday show on the road.
Keith, Deacon Steve Baird and the Rev. Mark Huggenvik from of the local Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration did Ashes to Go, taking Ash Wednesday ceremonies to the streets of Vail and Beaver Creek. People deluged them who’d never seen anything quite like it, and happy they were seeing it now.
“The goal is to get out of the walls of the chapel and into the walls of the community we serve,” 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 started in Chicago and New York Episcopal churches about five years ago, when ministers wanted to follow the Lord’s very good example.
“Clergy wanted to meet people where they are, and not just in the door of a church,” Keith said.
So they took to the streets to spread ashes and love on the first day of the season of Lent — the 40 days leading up Easter. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the traditional last gasp for revelers before they’re supposed to straighten up during Lent.
Wednesday in Vail and Lionshead villages, the response was overwhelming, Keith said.
He started on Bridge Street, where, the night before on Mardi Gras, biblical admonitions on behalf of moderation took a serious beating.
Keith quit counting at 200 people as he was working his way through Vail Village toward Checkpoint Charlie in Vail Village, trying to get to his next service. The deacons working in Lionshead Village blessed that many or more, Keith said.
The responses were amazing and warm, Keith said.
His hands were covered with ash, which, he said, is a good thing. Like our sins, ash can be washed away.
They prayed for one couple who got engaged on Vail Mountain earlier during the day.
A Pittsburgh Steelers fan left with ashes, a prayer and Keith’s wish that the Steelers have better luck next year — good, Keith said, but not too good. The Steelers fan smiled and asked if there was somewhere inside Keith he could stick some of those ashes.
Lots of grandparents and grandchildren were prayed for, as were people who requested safe travels for people who were injured on the mountain.
Baird was invited into The Arabelle in Lionshead Village for someone who’d just had surgery. In he went, dressed in his clergy clothes, and met with the family.
In Lionshead Village, about half the skaters in the ice rink received and were prayed for.
They even had their first drive-by of a person who wanted to be blessed with the ashes.
A member of Keith’s church drove up to the Beaver Creek Chapel, rolled down the window and explained to Huggenvik that life was happening and could not wait.
They received their ashes right in the car, and drove away.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and that was a first,” Keith said.
One young snowboarder came up and asked what it was all about. Keith smiled and explained it all to him and others who had gathered around.
“I don’t want any ashes, but this is seriously cool,” the snowboarder said.
The Vail police pulled up, took one long look, smiled and went on their way.
“People were warm and gracious. They could not have been nicer,” Keith said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.