Churches Are Offering 'Ash and Dash' Ash Wednesday Services amid COVID This Year

The events are similar to a drive-thru, and eliminate physical contact

A clergy member from Munholland United Methodist Church spreads ashes on the forehead of a congregant in the drive-thru Ash Wednesday prayer and imposition of ashes on February 17, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana
"Ash and Dash" event. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty

Just as the world has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, so, too, has the church.

Ash Wednesday looked a bit different this year for churches around the world, and many turned to "Ash and Dash" events in order to minimize physical contact.

At Faith Lutheran Church and Sampson's Mills Presbyterian Church near Pittsburgh, those who wanted to receive ash on their foreheads arrived by car, according to CBS affiliate KDKA.

Some were given pre-made packages that allowed them to draw the cross in ash on their own foreheads, while others had masked pastors do it for them via cotton swab.

"It is different, but I think we have to come up with creative ways to continue our faith and celebration of things that are meaningful to us," churchgoer Kathy Jo Pollack told KDKA.

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Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California has held similar "Ash and Dash" events for busy commuters and people with mobility issues in years' past, but have adapted the set-up for COVID purposes, according to Los Angeles magazine.

At Saint Mark's, ministers are putting pre-packaged packets of blessed ashes in people's car trunks so that they can then apply the ash to their own foreheads without human contact.

"By modifying this experience this year, we hope to meet people where they are, spiritually, and give them an opportunity to participate safely in what has become a very sacred tradition to millions of Christians around the world on Ash Wednesday," Rector Reverend Keith Yamamoto told the outlet. "But also do it in a way that is safe given public health guidelines."

Priests have been given instructions by the Vatican to keep this year's Ash Wednesday events as COVID-safe as possible, the Vatican News reported.

They have been instructed to bless the ashes and sprinkle them in silence, then briefly address those present. The priest then is to wash his hands, put on a face mask and distribute ashes atop each person's head without saying a word.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent each year, and lasts about six weeks before ending the night before Easter. People typically fast and give something up, such as chocolate or alcohol.

Church leaders usually say something like, "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return" in order to remind their parishioners of their human mortality, according to the Washington Post.

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