By DAN SEWELL
CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio church is offering a drive-thru Ash Wednesday blessing for parishioners pressed for time or reluctant to come inside the church for the Lenten observance.
The Rev. Patricia Anderson Cook of Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church in suburban Cincinnati offered the ashes Wednesday evening for people of all faiths beginning around 5 p.m. in the church parking lot. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, which concludes after 40 days with the celebration of Easter, and the faithful traditionally have a smudged cross drawn on their forehead.
Bridget Spitler, the church’s secretary and building manager, said the church had received a lot of positive feedback for offering the drive-thru ashes.
“Some people may not be too comfortable coming in for a serious service,” she said, adding that people with severe arthritis or other ailments that make attending the service uncomfortable also appreciate the drive-thru opportunity.
The pastor will provide a church brochure and a Lenten booklet, and the church offers a traditional Ash Wednesday service inside at 7 p.m.
It’s a first at her church, but some other churches have also taken more-informal approaches to the ashes. There’s even a Web site called Ashes to Go.
The Rev. Teresa K.M. Danieley of St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis said the ecumenical effort began in 2007, with ashes given to some 100 passers-by outside a coffeehouse. The practice has spread, with clergy members offering ashes outside commuter trains, at bus stops and on street corners around the country.
“Ashes to Go can be a powerful way for people to encounter Christ where they are, in the midst of their lives,” she says on the website.
Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said for the Cincinnati region’s many Roman Catholics, getting ashes still calls for attending a service.
Some Cincinnati area Catholics might be taking part in another Lenten tradition: McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches were pioneered in Cincinnati in the early 1960s by a franchisee, the late Lou Groen, who was trying to offset business being lost when Catholics abstained from eating meat on Fridays.