Ash Wednesday observances normally involve Christians flocking to churches to receive ashes on their foreheads — in the sign of a cross, to mark the beginning of Lent, which leads up to Easter.
But this year — as the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic — local Ash Wednesday observances were varied.
The First United Methodist Church in Land O’ Lakes, for instance, offered “Ashes to Go, a free Cup of Joe,” to motorists streaming by the church, located on U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes.
At Saint Leo University, in St. Leo, students and staff could get ashes at various locations on campus.
Meanwhile, Bishop Gregory Parkes, who presides over the Diocese St. Petersburg, offered guidance for Ash Wednesday observances.
During this season, “Catholics are reminded to turn away from faithless ways and to be renewed in their faith,” Parkes said, in a news release.
The sign of the cross received on Ash Wednesday serves as an “external sign of this inner reality,” Parkes adds, in the release.
The release also said that Parkes had “determined that the distribution of ashes can be done in a safe manner as long as certain protocols are in place. Some parishes will distribute ashes by sprinkling on the crown of the head, a method commonly used in other countries. Masks are to be worn by ministers and recipients during the distribution, and the minister will take a pinch of ashes and silently sprinkle them over the head of each recipient.
“Additionally, parishes have the option to distribute ashes via a swab or cotton ball, as long as masks are worn by ministers and the cotton balls or swabs are replaced after application. Also, ministers may choose to apply ashes with the thumb as long as they and the recipients wear masks during the distribution and ministers sanitize their thumbs before and after the distribution.”
Meanwhile, back at First United Methodist Church in Land O’ Lakes, Pastor Kevin Grills and retired Rev. Barry White, stood ready early Feb. 17 to distribute ashes to motorists who wanted to receive them, while passing by on their way to work.
Sue Shea, a church volunteer, and Glenn Cote, a church member and owner of Aroma Joe’s coffee, also were on hand, to offer coffee to those dropping by.
Cars zoomed past the church quickly.
Chances are that motorists didn’t see the sign posted near the entrance to the church’s driveway. The church also extended the invitation, by posting signs in nearby neighborhoods, welcoming people to drop by to receive some ashes and a free cup of Joe.
But, there weren’t many takers on Ash Wednesday morning.
Still, the ministers and the volunteers weren’t discouraged.
“I just love to be part of what God is calling us to do,” said Cote. “Part of his commandment is to go out and to serve, and to make disciplines. So, we’re hopefully able to do that,” he said.
Shea has belonged to the church since its inception in 1959, when it was located in Lutz before moving to Land O’ Lakes in 1974.
“I am a servant,” Shea said. “I am always excited about being able to serve the community, and share God’s love.”
Rev. White said the church’s efforts are in response to the impacts of COVID-19.
“These are different times. You’ve got to offer things, to hopefully reach out to the community,” White said.
The outreach, Pastor Grills said, is a sign that the church desires to go out to the people.
“It’s not about people coming inside the walls,” Grills said.
He added, it’s a chance for motorists streaming by to see, “we’re out here — at least attempting, meaning well.”
“It’s an opportunity to pray for every car that goes by,” Grills said, and “that’s certainly what we’ll do, when we close up here, we’ll spend some time in prayer.”
Published February 24, 2021