Ash Wednesday at First Church

By March 28, 2019

From two well-attended services in the Sanctuary, to a packed family service where families with children learned the true meaning behind getting ashes on our heads, to a special time at the First Street Methodist Mission for prayer and the imposition of ashes for guests, staff, and volunteers, Ash Wednesday at First Church offered a time of hope, healing, community, and a deeply contemplative start to our This Is Us season of Lent. “That so many of you place a high priority on the faith development of your children is an inspiration,” says Mister Mark Burrows. “It gives me HOPE.”

This Family-Friendly Ash Wednesday service began in 2011 with Mark, one volunteer, and six kids in the children’s atrium. They decided not to offer it in 2012, and then tried it one more time in 2013. This is when, as Mark says, this little Lenten service for families started to snowball, growing in popularity with young families over the next two years until it outgrew the Chapel four years ago.

This Ash Wednesday more than 167 people of all ages gathered for dinner, then moved to Wesley Hall for this service that moves five small groups through five different prayer experience stations: “Wow” Prayers, “I’m Sorry” Prayers, “Thank You” Prayers, “Help” Prayers, and then finally, each person receives their ashes with the assurance that “You are more than ashes, you are more than dust. The very breath of God is in you.”

“What really struck me about this year was how all the parents and grandparents got down on the floor with the kids, gathered around, and really experienced WITH the children,” Mark says. “This makes for SUCH a rich faith development opportunity!”

Thinking beyond the “business as usual” trappings and practices of Lenten worship is a big part of our First Church tradition of reaching beyond the usual to meet a need in a new or different way. “This is the second year to offer the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday at First Street Mission,” remarks Linda Murphy, Director of The First Street Mission, “but it’s the first year we’ve offered it during services to our homeless clients.”

Linda says that what began as a way to offer ashes to volunteers who were serving during the noon hour, which caused them to miss the noon Ash Wednesday worship service in the Sanctuary, expanded this year to include the Mission’s Wednesday services for our clients who are homeless.

Adding that since the Mission already offers communion before client services during the third full week of each month, this year the mission staff asked Dr. Mike Marshall if they could also invite the Mission’s guests to come in for ashes. “He said, ‘Sure!’,” she remembers with a smile. Linda says that this went so well that when Carol came over to the Mission that morning she asked if she could come back in the afternoon to offer the imposition of ashes to the Mission’s afternoon clients.

“Of course, we were delighted,” Linda says. “It has been interesting to watch this evolve,” she adds. “What started out as something we did for Mission volunteers turned into realizing the guests who come through here have spiritual needs too.” She laughs. “I guess in all our focus on clothing and feeding them we lost sight of that spiritual need that exists for everyone.”

Adding that for anyone it’s always good to feel closer to God, Linda says this sentiment is something she and the staff hear often when they’re serving monthly communion at the Mission. “At times of communion and during the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes, there’s just a positive feeling in the air — a sense of calm that permeates the normally busy and often frenetic space,” Linda says. “It’s very easy to see how much the Mission guests, staff, and volunteers appreciate this opportunity and gesture of inclusiveness from our church.”

Join us for the full season of Lent, culminating in the special services and activities planned for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Get the full schedule at and remember, if you miss something you can always catch up through our YouTube channel and SoundCloud podcasts, as well as hearing the previous week’s sermon and music on WRR (101.1 FM) each Sunday morning at 7:30 am.


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