I never dreamed that I would be sitting in a coffeeshop with a pot of ashes in my hand. it felt awkward–like that first time in Field Education class in seminary when my professor made me wear a clergy collar (yes, like the Catholics) along with the rest of the guys in my class and walk outside on the street just to see how it felt to really CLAIM that you are a Christian. And not just a Christian, but a pastor at that.
It was Ash Wednesday, and what we offered was nothing new—there is a movement of churches all over the country that have begun bringing these ritual acts of the church outside of sanctuary walls. We have begun to realize that Lent is not just a time to return to faith-based self-focus. God isn’t only in a relationship with you or with me—God’s heart set on all people in our community. The very acts we participate in on Ash Wednesday call us to do the same—to claim once again God’s grace for every human being, and claim that because we will all return to dust, we are not all that different from each other.
We did not have many folks respond to the imposition of ashes this year, but I believe the few who did actually choose to receive the sign of the cross on their heads were sent back to a very meaningful place in their hearts and memory. We were at Brew Haha Coffeeshop and the corner of North and 3rd in Baton Rouge, and in Free Speech Alley on LSU’s campus. Many of these folks have fallen out of relationship with the church, but as we talked with them, most did claim a strong relationship with God, and were invited to join in once again. To those who passed by with double takes, hidden faces and knowing smiles, we were a strong and respectful Christian witness.
There are churches who love to talk about Jesus, worship and receive the sacraments inside the church walls. There are churches who believe in the transforming Gospel of Christ and practice street evangelism because they can’t help but shout it out loud. But there aren’t many churches so caught up in their life of faith that they do all of those things. I believe and have experienced that The United Methodist Church has the capacity to hold all of these things together in our outreach and witness to the world around us…and this is just the beginning.
This is our first Rooted Kingdom story. Want to share yours? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Help us to see how God is at work in your community.
Katie McKay Simpson, First United Methodist Church-Baton Rouge.