Get Ready for Ashes to Go 2013

January 30, 2013

With Ash Wednesday a mere two weeks away, the Rev. Emily Mellott of Calvary, Lombard is asking congregations interested in participating in the popular "Ashes to Go" initiative to alert her of their plans by signing in at

This will be the third year in which Bishop Jeff Lee and congregations throughout the diocese have participated in the outdoor liturgical initiative that sends clergy and lay ministers out of their churches and into the streets to mark the forehead of interested passers-by with ashes, and to invite them to repent of their past wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and renewal. Last year, almost 30 of the diocese's 124 congregations participated.

Mellott, who is serving her second year as the unofficial coordinator of the movement, says more than 20 churches in thirteen states and the District of Columbia have told her that they will offer Ashes to Go. A number of other congregations from around the country have called with questions such as what are the best locations to offer ashes; how can the initiative be made to work in areas with little pedestrian traffic; and what kind of liturgical "team" a congregation should send out to local transit stops and street corners.

"I like to recommend a team that consists of both lay people and clergy," says Mellott who learned about Ashes to Go from a colleague in St. Louis several years ago, "and that you should vest if that is something your team members are comfortable with. Vestments speak louder than words about the church coming out from inside its walls to meet people where they are."

Calvary, Lombard supports Ashes to Go, so strongly that Mellott has the luxury of having vested and unvested ministers on her team. "The ones in civilian clothes engage with people who aren't quite ready for the person with the funny outfit on," she says.

Ashes to Go was an unexpected national media hit last year, and was covered by USA Today, the CBS Morning News, The New York Times and media outlets across the state. Its visibility was such that the authors of the examination that seminarians must pass upon completing their studies included in this year's test a question about the scriptural justification for Ashes to Go.

This year, several more bishops have joined the outdoor ashes movement. The Rt. Revs. Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island and Mariann Budde of Washington, D. C., have both written to their clergy asking that they consider taking part.

If the past is any indication, Mellott says, she will hear from at least 70 or 80 more churches in perhaps another 15 states during the next two weeks, and hundreds of churches will offer Ashes to Go without checking in. She is particularly interested in whether the Very Rev. Michael Weeder, dean of St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, will offer Ashes to Go. That would make the movement international.

Follow developments about Ashes to Go on its Facebook page.