MOUNT VERNON, Ind. (AP) - The Mount Vernon Ministerial Association members are offering a modern-day twist on an old tradition.
This Wednesday, churches across much of Christendom will be open for special observances associated with Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent.
"A lot - but not all - churches include the placing of ashes on the foreheads of their members," the Rev. Cynthia Priem, pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Mount Vernon, Ind., told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1di1oFO ).
This year, however, the Mount Vernon Ministerial Association decided to try something new, Priem said. New, at least, to the Tri-State.
"Ashes to Go" will afford people unable or unaccustomed to going to church an opportunity to participate in this ancient ritual by offering locations outside of religious institutions where individuals can, figuratively speaking, receive ashes in a nonreligious, drive-thru setting.
Mount Vernon's churches will still be open, as always, Priem said.
"Ashes to Go is being offered in addition to that - for people who cannot get to church because of their work schedules (or other time constraints)," she said.
"We will offer a brief prayer - a prayer of repentance - to everyone. Belonging to a church is not required," Priem said. "And then we will place ashes on their foreheads and give them a printed prayer card (the process) shouldn't take even a minute," she said.
Three venues in Mount Vernon will offer Ashes to Go: McKim's IGA, the Ministerial Association Food Bank at Hedges Central and the parking lot behind First Fidelity Bank.
The First Fidelity location will offer drive-thru service. There's no need to get out of the car.
Ashes to Go is not the brainchild of the Mount Vernon clergy association, said the Rev. Allen Rutherford, pastor at St. John's Episcopal Church there.
"I had a parishioner bring the idea to me four years ago, wanting us to do it here. It is quite popular in Episcopal churches around the country, I was told.
"But I did not want to annoy anyone so I proposed that we open it up to the (multidenominational) Ministerial Association. It has been on the back burner for four years now percolating. I was blown away when Monica (Gould), brought it up again (this winter)," he said.
The Rev. Gould, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon, said she saw this project as a new opportunity for the ministerial association to do something as a group in the community as well as provide a service to the community.
"I did this once at the Posey County Jail. I was astounded. It took two hours. People who had never done this before wanted it," Gould said.
She took that experience forward believing that "Part of the business of the church is getting out and meeting people beyond the walls of the church meeting people where the needs are," she said.
"I see this as a nonthreatening way to do it," Rutherford said. "Some people are hesitant to walk into a hallowed church, but the street corner? I see it as a way to reach lapsed, unchurched and de-churched Christians."
Not all members of the ministerial association are participating, Rutherford said, but none of them have taken exception that some members are.
"For instance, ashes are not a part of the Baptist tradition," Priem said.
Clergy involved include Priem, Rutherford, Gould, Jim Sauer of St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church and Robert Kloepping at Faith United Methodist Church.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com