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Ashes on the street

01 March 2013

THE rites of Ash Wednesday emerged on to the high street at St Neots, in Ely diocese, when the Rector of Eynesbury, the Revd Debbie Noonan (above), and the Priest-in-Charge at St Neots, the Revd Paul Andrews, marked the foreheads of the parishioners who came, and also many passers-by, and blessed them.

It was the first time that they had taken the rite outside the church building. The suggestion came from Mrs Noonan, who arrived from the United States only a few months ago. She had done the same thing outside Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, and Mr Andrews agreed that they should try it.

It was a freezing cold day, and they spent a total of an hour and a half on the streets; but the response was warm, and they were pleased at the way it went. Some people would not make eye contact, Mrs Noonan tells me, but they had interesting conversations with people who were curious about what they were doing, and they were able to hand out leaflets that explained about Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Among those who willingly accepted the ash-marked cross on their foreheads were a Roman Catholic family on holiday from Scotland, who had been unable to find a convenient service in an RC church; so they subsequently attended a eucharist at the parish church. Ms Noonan says that the offering of ashes on the street is a reminder that God meets us in the midst of life, and is an opportunity for those with busy schedules to take time out to remember their need for God. She and Mr Andrews plan to do the same again next year.

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