A new Lenten tradition
A couple of cups of joe and a jar of ashes in a coffee shop.
That was all pastors Catherine Davis and Kim Hester needed last week to bring a little bit of Lent to the community outside of their congregations at Newberg First United Methodist and Joyful Servant Lutheran churches.
For several hours Feb. 14 at Chapters Books and Coffee, the pair offered "Ashes to Go" by anointing the sign of the cross in ash on the foreheads of about a dozen people in celebration of Ash Wednesday.
But the exercise, which they engaged in for the second straight year, was just as much about those who weren't familiar with the traditional ceremony that helps mark the onset of Lent for many Christians.
"It just gave us a chance to kind of explain that this is the time at the beginning of a season where we reflect and look inward and see our brokenness," Davis said. "And yet, we know what's coming. But during this season of Lent, we're able to be transformed by the deep reflection and inward journey that we make to the cross with Jesus."
The first Ashes to Go was a small but more outward facing part of a bigger collaboration Davis and Hester orchestrated between the congregations at First United Methodist and Joyful Servant. They took advantage of 500th anniversary of the Reformation to learn more about each other's tradition by hosting some joint services and a weekly soup supper discussion group during Lent.
The collaboration has grown this year to include Newberg Emerging Friends Church, which is sharing the space at Joyful Servant. Ashes to Go represents an effort to share with the broader community in a similar way.
"For me, it was a realization that not all churches do this, so to live in a town, in particular, with such a presence of Quakers, they don't know this," Hester said. "So I'm excited about our midweek conversations that are starting because Newberg Emerging Friends are going to be a part of that and this is all new to them. We're just excited to be able to talk about that, share who we are, what we believe and learn from each other. So it's definitely worth a couple of hours in a coffee shop to just get out."
Although they're not experts on the history of the ash ceremony, Davis and Hester believe its roots likely go back a Jewish tradition of wearing sackcloth, sitting in and heaping ashes upon their heads as an act of repentance.
"I think that's maybe where the tradition of marking yourself with ashes is to remind you that, yes we need God, we need forgiveness," Davis said. "And we are claimed. When we look in the mirror we can see that Christ has given us that forgiveness. So I think it goes way back to this idea of realizing we are all broken and in need of the salvation of Jesus Christ."
When part of the traditional Ash Wednesday service, Hester said the ceremony is put in the context of God creating humankind out of dust.
"As we die, our bodies decompose and become dust and yet, throughout that whole process, the love of God continues and holds us. And the dust isn't the end," she said. "So it is a time, for me, as we begin Lent to have a pause to think back on where we're broken and what sacrifice Christ has taken on for us to have the life we have been given."
This year, Davis and Hester interacted with about 20 to 25 people while at the coffee shop and also reported a larger turnout for their joint evening service at Joyful Servant.
"Kim and I count it as a success," Davis said.