Ash Wednesday is my favorite Christian day after Easter. I love the act of repentance and centering your whole being for a 40-day journey toward Jerusalem. For my spirit to thrive on this day, I have learned that I must be out in the community offering Ashes to all of God’s creation. This Wednesday was no different. 194 people drove up or walked up to receive ashes. Director of Visual Arts and Social Media Kat Cochrane and Director of Discipleship Karen Andrews both helped me, and I am sure they have reflections of their own they would love to share with you. I could go on and on about the people I met and the stories they shared but that would be a book instead of a page. So here are just of few of the encounters.
During the first hour as the sun was trying to break through the clouds, an Arlens employee came across the street. She wanted to start her day with the cross on her forehead. She then asked if I could come over to the store and give ashes to her coworkers. Later that morning I went and gave five employees their ashes. They were thankful for me coming to them. In the late afternoon a lady drove-up. After Karen gave her the ashes she started to cry. She had just left the doctor’s office and they had scheduled her for gallbladder surgery and a liver biopsy. She was scared. Karen and I both reassured her we would be praying for her.
A lady drove up alone. After she received her cross she asked how long I would be there. I told her until 7 p.m. and she said she would be back with her son who had stayed home from school due to illness. She came back with him on one trip; then three more times she came back with a car full of people to receive ashes. She said she was an Uber driver for God today. Another woman came back twice with her elderly tias who couldn’t walk without assistance. They have not received ashes in several years due to an inability to walk up the stairs of the church.
My adopted “mom” who lives in San Antonio saw my post on Facebook and drove up to receive ashes from me on her way to Austin for a meeting. It was a beautiful surprise.
Social media played a role in other encounters. A couple was on their way from Boerne to Austin for a meeting and she realized they wouldn’t be back in time to receive Ashes at their church. She Googled “day ashes nearby” and found us on the first hit on Google. They were grateful for the opportunity to wear their cross at their business meeting.
Our day school moms came to pick up kids and asked for ashes. Little brothers or sisters saw their siblings had a cross on their head or hand and wanted one. I had so many moments of talking to children about how much Jesus loves and will always love them no matter what. Later in the day I had a grandmother come to pick up her grandchild. I asked if she wanted ashes. She did not know what Lent was about, so I explained Lent and ashes to her and told her what I told her granddaughter earlier in the day when all day school kids received ashes. I told the grandmother how much Jesus loved her. She had tears in her eyes and hugged me. I do not know if she had ever been told about Jesus before. We hugged a little while longer and I prayed for her.
I had several nurses come by. One nurse parked and got out of her car; she waited for us to finish giving ashes to a van load of kids. She looked beat. As I gave her the ashes I wondered what she had seen and who she cared for this day. After the ashes were given, she said it was a hard shift. She then asked if I would pray for her. I said yes, “let’s do it now.” She said there were people in line. I told her it would be okay. They will wait. We prayed and hugged. She went on her way and I turned around and the other cars had waited, and more were in line. The world slowed down for us all for a moment.
A young couple came with a baby and grandmother. The mother did not know what the ashes were for, so I explained. After she received them she asked me to place ashes on her new baby. The whole family received ashes and then asked me to take a picture of them in front of the church. I found out they just moved to New Braunfels and were out seeing what churches were around. They did not come for ashes; they came for a church home. I gave them information and invited them back.
My last car was a visitor to our church. He has been coming for a while. He sings with our band. He brought his wife and son. He said he had been driving up and down San Antonio Street all day and kept seeing me. After I gave him and his family Ashes, he kept hugging and thanking me. As I reflect on the day now, his hugs and thankfulness summed up a beautiful day filled with the Holy Spirit. Church happened outside of the walls.
Written by Rev. Theresa Booth, Associate Pastor, FUMC, New Braunfels