North Carolina pastor offers ‘Ash N Dash’ services as Lent begins
“I am struck by how sacred a worn-down parking lot can be.”
On Ash Wednesday in Burlington, N.C., a brief time of outdoor worship transformed a parking area into sacred space.
With the pandemic, administering ashes in person became problematic. The Rev. Michelle Funk, pastor of First Christian United Church of Christ, found a way to mark the beginning of Lent at a safe 6-foot distance. Two “Ash N Dash” services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, invited drivers, wearing masks and remaining in their cars, to participate in the day of repentance.
Funk and one of the church deacons distributed ashes in a drive-through procession, marking each car with a window cling. She ordered a couple hundred – a circle containing a cross of ashes, a small but powerful symbol of one’s mortality.
“I am humbled by the people, some complete strangers, who stopped by. They shared their greatest hurts, their pain as we prayed and blessed one another,” Funk said. “We served car after car saying prayers, doing the imposition of ashes, and then sending them off with a blessing and a small reminder of God’s love.”
Feb. 17 was one of the coldest mornings of the year in North Carolina, so the 8 a.m. service got off to a slow start. But the day warmed up. Between 5 and 6 p.m., Funk and the First Christian deacon served car after car, one right after the other.
“Our parking lot became Holy Ground,” she said. “For a brief few minutes people of our church community and beyond experienced our parking lot as sacred space, a space where humanity could feel the divine presence, the Spirit, so powerfully. A space that allowed God to work in our world.”
In addition to “Ash N Dash,” First Christian participated in a virtual joint Ash Wednesday service with other Burlington UCC churches, First Reformed and Life’s Journey, at 7 p.m. It provided more “sacred and meaningful moments” that sent Funk home exhausted, but happy.
“It was a blessing to see so many members of our individual communities come together as the body of Christ,” she said. “Our deacon was so touched by it all. She said the only thing she could say to describe it was love – she just felt love so deeply.
“Community, relationship, connection – that is what I think we are all missing so much during this time of pandemic. But on Wednesday I believe we all felt more connected than we have in a while, with each other and with the Holy One.”
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