KC Currents
11:59 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Want Fries With That?: Ash Wednesday Drive-Through

These days you can get a lot at a drive-through without leaving the comfort of your car: coffee, dry cleaning, a cheeseburger and, this past Wednesday morning – imposing of ashes.

Two churches in Prairie Village offered single-serve Ash Wednesday services to commuters in their cars. Alex Smith stopped by one to watch the season of Lent kicked off at the speed of rush hour.

At just before 7:30 on a chilly morning, Pastor Aaron Roberts stepped out of Colonial Church in Prairie Village and marched out to the curb, where cars roared past. Wearing a stole and black robe, he planted a sign in the grass reading “Ash Wednesday Drive Through.” Before long, Roberts saw a slow but steady trickle of takers. As each car pulled up, Roberts took just about 15 seconds to deliver a blessing and draw a cross in ashes with his thumb on the commuters’ forehead.

About half who drove through were members of the church, and about half were just passing by. After receiving the imposition, a few explained what brought them.

“My name’s Rana. Cause I’m so busy today, and I won’t be able to go to Mass today cause my kids have basketball, and so this is a great opportunity,” explains one commuter. “I just saw it. I didn’t even know about it.”

“I’m Marilyn Upman,” says a participant. “And when I got up this morning, I thought, ‘Ug,’ you know? ‘Aah! Do – Do I want to get up and go over there?’ and then I thought, ‘Yes! I need to go!”

“Well, we’re imposing ashes, and this is a first time for this church to do this,” says another driver.  “And if Aaron is willing to stand out here in the cold, I’m willing to come get them.”

Pastor Roberts says the church started the drive-through service this year to accommodate the needs of congregants who couldn’t make the evening Ash Wednesday service. His church is part of the United Church of Christ, one of many Christian denominations that practices imposing of ashes. Roberts explains the significance of the tradition.

“There’s lots of stories about where the tradition of Ash Wednesday came from,” says Pastor Aaron Roberts. “One of them is that there was a priest in France back in the – I think it was the sixth century. Every year there was a day that they would bring out prisoners in the community and humiliate them by covering them with ashes. And then one year as a protest of that practice and the treatment of those prisoners, the priest covered himself in ashes and somehow that got tied together with Ash Wednesday. It means a lot of different things to people, but usually it’s a sign of repentance and things that we would like to change about ourselves. It’s also – when you put the ashes on someone, the words are spoken, ‘That the truth of our nature is from dust we are created and to dust we will return.’ Which - no matter who you are, it’s kind of a grounding statement of what it means to be human.”

Roberts says wearing a cross of ashes can draw attention, but that’s part of the ritual.

“People look at you funny all day,” explains Roberts. “Some people will recognize you, or they’ll have them on themselves, and other people will keep their distance from you. It’s a very interesting experience to walk around with a cross of ash on your forehead.”

The drive-through received about 20 commuters over a little more than one hour. Pastor Aaron Robert says he plans to make the Ash Wednesday drive through an annual tradition at Colonial Church.

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents podcast.