Next week Holy Comforter will host Drive-Thru Ashes on Ash Wednesday. Last year our church got a lot of press for this. We showed up in the Houston Chronicle twice, and we got a couple of shout outs from local radio stations.
But it didn’t come without a cost. Many of my friends and clergy colleagues disagree with Drive-Thru Ashes or Ashes to Go. I don’t plan on changing any minds with this blog post, but here are a few of the reasons we will do Drive-Thru Ashes.
First of all, the imposition of ashes is not a sacrament. I would never consider anything of this nature for Holy Communion, baptism, or any of the other five sacraments. And please, remember, the imposition of ashes is a new thing in the liturgical life of our church. Look closely, and you’ll see it’s not in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And the imposition of ashes is optional in the 1979 book. Gasp!
Now, would I prefer that everybody show up at church for imposition of ashes and Holy Eucharist? Of course! And that’s why Holy Comforter also has three services on Ash Wednesday (6AM, 12PM, and 7PM). I love the Prayer Book with every fiber of my being, and I do sincerely hope that more people will come inside for our services to hear the invitation to a holy Lent, to say Psalm 51, and to receive communion.
Is Drive-Thru Ashes gimmicky? Yes. And anybody who doesn’t fess up to that is deluding themselves. Nevertheless, can God work through it? Absolutely, and I witnessed that power last year. Men and women broke down and cried, right there in their cars, because nobody had prayed for them in a long, long time. Again, would I wish that they would come inside? Of course, because the full power of the liturgy and the community would be a salve for their souls. And we do earnestly invite them to return. But we are meeting them where they are, not where we want them to be. Was the liturgy made for man, or man for the liturgy?
I also hear my friends who are opposed to this say that we should have more services and be more intentional about inviting people into the church. Right. Yes. Of course. All of the above. But if we’re too draconian, we are suddenly in the place of the leader of the synagogue in Luke 13: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”
That sounds a lot like, “there are 52 Sundays a year, come back on one of those and we’ll pray for you.”
Finally, do I think that Drive-Thru Ashes and other such efforts will restore Christendom? Of course not. Cheap grace will not build the Kingdom of God. But we have got to start somewhere, and I think that a parking lot is just fine.