Many in Loudon County will celebrate Ash Wednesday in a slightly different way as churches adjust during the pandemic.
Ash Wednesday, which occurs today, is the first day of Lent and serves as a chance for reflection and patience for 40 days before celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
“We’re preparing for celebrating Easter, and the ashes remind us that we’re sinners and that we’re dying and that we desperately need a savior,” the Rev. Brian Truog, Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church pastor, said. “That prepares us to more appreciate and celebrate the life and death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.”
When the day was celebrated last year, a pandemic had not been declared.
For the Rev. Ingrid Schalk and others at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, creativity was needed to make the day possible. She consulted with the church worship team and developed a drive-by event.
“We’re going to have drive-by ashes to go to adapt to this for this time of pandemic,” Schalk said. “In the front of the church we’ll have a canopy so people can drive up and I’ll use a Q-tip applicator because I can’t use my thumb. I can’t keep dipping into the ashes, so I’ll use a fresh one. ... It’s a good reason for folks to come out this year, and it’s a safe way to doing it. That’s how we’re getting our vaccinations, that’s how you’re getting your COVID tests is drive-by, because we still have a lot of folks who are being extremely careful about being out in public.”
The drive-by effort will be 1-2 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m. after the online service.
“There’s something about being touched and looking at someone in the eye and hearing those words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return’,” Schalk said. “... Right now a lot of people have returned to spiritual practices, and that’s part of Lent as well is I’m going to say it’s like a spiritual checkup, like you go to a doctor for a checkup. ‘What’s my prayer life like? Am I doing my daily devotions?’ Those kind of things. That’s one of the things we encourage here, but also during the pandemic more people have found those practices, that template of practices to be helpful. We’ve not offered anything like this before. I’ve thought of going out to do ashes to go, but here in the Village I’m not sure where that would be. If we were in a more populated area or downtown we could do that where people would be passing on the street, but here I thought this was a great opportunity.”
Christ Our Savior will hold an in-person service at 4:30 p.m. Those attending will have a chance to get ashes when they walk in.
“We’re doing something a little different this year with COVID,” Truog said. “We usually would use our thumb to do the sign a cross, we’re going to use Q-tips and then throw away the Q-tip each time so you’re not going from one person to the next with the same one.”
The church resumed regular services with masks and social distancing in May, Truog said.
“We think it’s important to keep open as much as we can,” he said. “We’ve been getting about 70% of our normal attendance and we can’t fit them all in the sanctuary. We’ve got an overflow that we do to make sure that they’re socially distanced.”
He anticipates attendance will be down this year for Ash Wednesday.
The day is also used as a chance to “refocus on the reason that we need a savior and why we’re so desperate for savior,” Truog said.
Schalk said Ash Wednesday is typically described as somber, but there is still hope.
“Each year we have a theme during this time,” Schalk said. “... This year it’s listening and loving — listen and love. In a time where our country and our world is at odds with one another, and in this context even, it’s your neighbor right across the street who thinks much differently than the other. What I’m seeing there’s such a desperate need for us to really listen to one another. That’s what the good book is telling us, too. Listen to one another. Even though we may not agree, we can still love. That is what’s going to get us through these times, listen and love, so that’s the theme that we’re following.
“Lent is a season that helps keep us focused on the things that really are important because we’ve been distracted,” she added. “Everybody’s been distracted by a lot of things.”
Loudon United Methodist Church will host a Zoom service at 7 p.m. using Ash Wednesday kits comprised of a burlap with a cross marked in ashes, some prayers and a letter from the Rev. Amy Cook, church pastor. She mailed 105 kits last week to people in the congregation.
“We’re still marking the holidays,” Cook said. “We had a Facebook Live Christmas Eve service because we always do that at midnight, so we had one Christmas Eve night. We’re finding ways around it. It’s not the same. It’s not how I would like to do it, but I feel like we’re staying together as a church.”