COVID-19: Church leaders propose scrapping the practice of ashes on Ash Wednesday

The start of the penitential season of Lent is marked by many churches with the placing of ashes. The ashes which were left after burning palm the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations are daubed on the foreheads of the congregation in the form of a cross.

However, some health practitioners have showed concern over the physical contact during the Ash Wednesday practice. This is due to the ongoing pandemic that has been ravaging some countries. It is pertinent to note that the pandemic has caused a shutdown of some churches in a bid to curb the further spread of COVID-19.

This year’s Ash Wednesday falls on February 17 and a group of religious leaders and public health experts have revealed the rules for observing Ash Wednesday safely. In the guidelines, indoor meetings are to be put on hold. More so, there should be regular use of hand sanitizer.

Pastor of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Georgia, Rev. Taylor W. Burton Edwards, said that there is a need to pay attention to the pandemic.

In recent years, busy Christians have been capitalizing on drive-thru ashes. This has made it to become well known for Christians who do not have enough time to attend weekday Ash Wednesday services. This year, others have also participated in drive-thru communion, drive-thru live nativities, drive-thru communion, and drive-thru confession.

The Rev. Stacy Gahlman-Schroeder of Norway Grove Memorial Lutheran Church in DeForest, Wisconsin, has decided to stand in the church parking lot throughout the day. She will be dipping disposable Q-tips into the ashes, instead of her finger. Besides, she will be offering a blessing, if it’s desired.

“I’m selfish on this. I really do want to see the faces again. It’s been a long year,” Gahlman-Schroeder said.

Furthermore, the Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship, and Sacraments provided another suggestion. They include sharing ashes to members of the congregation for their individual use. The Vatican’s suggestion that priests should mix ash with holy water and sprinkle it on congregants without saying a word was also approved by the group.

One of the group’s co-conveners, Burton Edwards, also affirmed that the most seen part of the Ash Wednesday which is the ashes, is not the most important. Hence, it can be ignored.

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