For some, Ash Wednesday is a very distinct, pre-planned moment. Their Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have been prayerfully planned. And maybe, there’s even been some pre-Lenten treats such as pączkis or king cakes. But not me. I’ve always been uneasy with the secularized versions of Mardi Gras or Carnival. And when it comes to preparing spiritually for Lent, it’s not until Lent actually begins and the first Sunday of Lent when I can fully enter into the season.
Here’s what I was thinking about today:
-Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation
-Ashes are not a sacrament. Anyone can receive them.
-Ashes can be distributed outside of Mass.
-Ash Wednesday draws the unchurched to church in numbers that trail only Easter and Christmas.
-The unchurched dislike (and are uncomfortable with) things that seem to take a long time (Tools for Rebuilding, p. 107). Ash Wednesday masses do take additional time due to the typical movement to receive ashes in addition to communion.
-The duration of Lent is similar to one of the suggested lengths for small group commitment (6 weeks).
-“Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk 1:15) is one of the possible proclamations to accompany the imposition of ashes on the forehead.
Leading me to wonder, might Ash Wednesday be a tremendous opportunity for an off-campus seeker service aimed at inviting seekers into small groups?
Many Christians bring ashes to the streets for Ash Wednesday. But, what I’m imagining would be something more than that. Yes, it would be a service off of church property. This liturgy of the word would be short, have an evangelistic sermon with direct invitation to join a small group, and of course, include ashes. The liturgy would be supported by excellent promotion in the community (because this is about inviting the unchurched, fallen away, and seekers) and plenty of hospitality from parishioners to help immediately sign people up for 6 week small groups meeting in a variety of local venues (i.e. homes, public spaces, etc.).
Ashes seem to hold a cultural resonance. They almost seem cool these days. The question is, can we build on this natural moment of interest in the sacred to invite those outside of the parish into something more?