I first encountered Ash Wednesday after moving from a small Western New York village to New York City in 2005. An administrator in my department showed up to work one day with a prominent smudge on her forehead, and nobody seemed to be kind enough to tell her. “Ginny,” I said, “there’s a bit of dirt on your face.”
She very kindly explained to me the Christian custom of receiving blessed ashes on one’s forehead, as a sign of sorrow for sin and as a memento of our mortality. Now, more than a decade later, it seems to me that Ash Wednesday is everywhere, and with “Ashes to go” rising in popularity, Ash Wednesday has become a highly visible day of evangelism for Christian churches.
Maybe it’s that many people long for the space to grieve, acknowledge our limits, and put things in perspective—space that’s not really part of our hard-driving culture. Maybe it’s the boldness of wearing our Christian identity in such a visible way. Maybe it’s hope inspired by a invitation to repentance and a real change of life. Maybe it’s curiosity about the people in funny robes standing on the train station or street corner. Whatever it is, Ash Wednesday is a day your neighbors are more likely to be open to a conversation about God.
So I’m wondering, is your church preparing to make the most out of this opportunity? Here are a few ideas that you can easily implement this month so you’ll be ready to share the love of Jesus on Ash Wednesday. Please, leave a comment to let us know your plans or what you’d add to this list!
Get on the map
If you’re in the Diocese of Central New York, we do an annual diocesan-wide map and listing of Ash Wednesday services, Ashes-to-Go locations, and Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers. We also invite people to join us through an ad campaign on Facebook. Please make sure your CNY parish is included by filling out this form to tell us about your events.
Create a takeaway—or Lent in a Bag!
If you’re meeting someone for the first time at an Ash Wednesday event, give them a way to stay connected with their faith and your congregation. I love a small business card or brochure with a prayer folks can use all through Lent. Make sure to include your church website address, and maybe your worship service times—but do keep it simple. Check out and adapt these example takeaways from The Episcopal Church.
At our diocese-sponsored Ashes-to-Go events this year, we’re handing out a small business card (pictured) with our website on one side and a prayer for Lent on the other. It cost just $23 to print 500 of these on Vistaprint. You can adapt your own from our Canva template.
Or what about going one step further and distributing “Lent in a Bag”? Churches do this for members, but what about making sure you have them ready for your Ash Wednesday and Ashes-to-Go visitors? A small bag filled with symbols of the season can help folks observe the season of Lent at home and remember your church when they’re looking for a community to share Lent with. Building Faith has ideas for what to include in your Lent in a Bag.
Make the most of word of mouth
Do your members know about your Ash Wednesday plans? Do they know the service times and locations?
Make sure you’ve got information in your newsletters and bulletins. Then, make an announcement on the next few Sundays asking members to invite their neighbors, family members and friends (in person, on Facebook, or a quick text or call) to join them at an Ash Wednesday service or to stop by your Ashes-to-Go event.
Alert the media
The Episcopal Church has a sample press release that you can edit to fit your congregation’s Ashes to Go services. You’ll be able to reach folks you never met if your event makes the local paper or evening news.
Update your website
Make sure you’ve talked to your webmaster/favorite digital communications volunteers about Ash Wednesday. Check your website and make sure that your Ash Wednesday services and Ashes-to-Go locations are very easy to find. Please don’t bury them among the committee meetings in the all-church calendar or deep down in an upcoming events page.
Create a Facebook event
Facebook events can help people in your area find your Ash Wednesday service or Ashes-to-Go locations. Here’s how to create one on your church’s Facebook page. Consider spending just 5 dollars on an inexpensive ad to promote your event to neighbors who live within five miles of your location.
Prepare for next year
Bring your smartphone and take some pictures so you’ll have great material to promote your Ash Wednesday events next year. Don’t be afraid to ask a fellow parishioner to “re-enact” the imposition of ashes so you can capture a great image.
What would you add to this list?
How are you sharing your Ash Wednesday events with your friends and neighbors? Please leave a comment to share your great ideas with everyone.