For many in the Triangle, the first day of Lent began on an especially sorrowful note: roads too slippery for traveling, even to church on Ash Wednesday.
Many churches canceled or scaled back their services, citing bad weather. But they offered an alternative to the faithful: ashes at home.
The idea started with the Rev. Greg Moore, pastor at All Saints’ United Methodist in Raleigh, who noted that liturgy is portable. You can smuggle it anywhere.
“Obviously, the preferred method is to be together,” Moore said. “Prayers are always more powerful in community. But I think the gesture is still there. The heart is still there.”
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He directed ice-bound worshipers to a Methodist ceremony designed for use by any faith.
Those participating were told to take the leaves left over from last year’s Palm Sunday, burn them and mix them with olive oil. If you didn’t have the leaves, you could use a piece of paper with a sin or hurtful trait written on it. The paper was burned and mixed with olive oil, then the mixture was used to trace a cross on your forehead.
If you were praying alone, you read the entire liturgy. If with homebound family or friends, it could be divided up. Regardless, Moore encouraged all to take a picture and upload it to Twitter under the hashtag #ashesathome.
Ash Wednesday signals the first day of Lent, a time of sacrifice and reflection for western Christians meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Ashes from palm branches are spread on participants’ heads during a service, often to some variation of these words: “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shall return.”
Some services canceled
Catholics, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Anglican churches offer such services. Some of them continued in Raleigh on Wednesday despite the ice.
Other congregations, including Edenton Street United Methodist in Raleigh and St. Francis United Methodist in Cary, dropped their services because of bad weather, encouraging ashes at home. “This is an excellent way to mark the beginning of the season of Lent,” said the announcement from Edenton Street.
By midday Wednesday, the #ashesathome posts had gone up from as far away as Tennessee. The idea didn’t sit well with a few, particularly the Rev. Drew McIntyre, pastor at West Bend United Methodist Church in Asheboro, who called it an abomination.
“The union of worship and convenience is rarely a holy one,” he said.
But Moore and others embraced it.
“If the weather was perfect good and everything was perfect, we’d get together,” Moore said, adding, “people of have faith have done this at home since time immemorial.”
Rev. John Yates III called off his church’s gathering at St. David’s School at about 12:30 Wednesday afternoon.
“I waited as long as I could,” said Yates. That’s hard for a guy whose most recent job was in snow-prone Philadelphia.
“Your faith and masculinity are brought into question,” he said, laughing. “For me to cancel for snow – that’s unheard of.”
Ash Wednesday is a particularly poignant holiday – so believers may feel a certain pang.
“You have this incredibly powerful and intimate moment,” said Yates, of Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
“It’s not every day you have someone put ashes on you and tell you you’re dust.”
Staff writer Andrew Kenney contributed to this report.