Two Bishops and an Archbishop were amongst those that took to the streets of Sunderland in NE England today (Ash Wednesday 10th February) to celebrate the start of Lent by offering to Ash and pray for passers-by as part of an international movement called ‘Ashes To Go’.
The Right Revd Paul Butler, The Anglican Bishop of Durham and the Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham The Catholic Bishop of Newcastle & Hexham were joined by The Most Revd Dr Onesphore Rwaje – the Archbishop of Rwanda (who is visiting Bishop Paul) as well as Clergy from Anglican and Catholic Churches in Sunderland.
The morning started with an eucharist service lead by Bishop Paul in Sunderland minster before taking to the streets for the ‘Ashing’ and ended with mass at St Mary’s with Bishop Seamus.
The morning’s ecumenical events were arranged to take part in the international movement ‘Ashes to Go’ that sees clergy and lay people visiting bus stops, street corners, coffee shops and train stations to mark the foreheads of passers-by with ashes and invite them to repent of past wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and renewal.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the holy season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Easter. For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the face at the beginning of that season as a reminder of mortal failings and an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness.
Ashes to Go provides the opportunity to participate in that tradition for people who have lost their connection to a church, or have never participated before, according to Bishop Paul who was doing this for the second year running.
He said: “It was delight to join with our friends from the Catholic Church and the people of Sunderland to mark the start of Lent.
“I am always amazed at the welcome we receive when we go out and offer to ‘Ash’ people and pray for them. One of the reasons we do it is because people are perhaps losing the sense of Lent and doing this reminds them about Ash Wednesday and gives them the opportunity to think about their mortality and the forgiveness of Christ.
“It is a conversation starter and some of the conversations that have been created through this have been very interesting.”
The Revd Canon Sheila Bamber – Provost of Sunderland Minster and the Revd Father Marc Lyden-Smith of St Mary’s in Sunderland said: “Ashes to Go is about bringing the important traditions of our faith out from behind church doors and into the community,”
“As people get busier and busier, we need the church to be working in new and non-traditional ways. We especially need reminders of forgiveness in the tough places of our lives. The people who accept ashes on the street are often people longing to make a connection between their faith and the pressures of daily life, and Ashes to Go helps them feel that connection.”