Spokane Area Churches adapt Ash Wednesday celebrations to Covid
Area places of worship are finding creative ways to offer Ash Wednesday services this year. This year’s social distancing and hygiene measures have created the need to change how this holy day is spent. Pastors and other religious figures have had to adapt to meet the spiritual needs of their congregations during a time when social distancing and hand washing are paramount.
The day of repentance signifies the beginning of Lent and is marked by fasting, prayer, and the blessing of the ashes on the foreheads of worshippers. That ritual ties into the creation story and specifically Genesis 3:19, said Jonathan Myers, pastor at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Spokane. He points out that science has proven that we all come from the stardust and return to stardust, and it all works together to bring forth creation.
“It’s this sense that God made humans from the dust of the earth, and then of course when we die, we decompose right back into that same stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot more science out there now that says all the stuff of the universe, it’s all the same. That’s what we’re actually made of and I think that’s a beautiful idea that we come together in these forms. And we have these brilliant, wild lives that we live full of joy and love and pain and suffering all mixed together, and then at the end of it we go back to what we came from.”
Myers has told parishioners who are attending church at home via livestream that it’s OK for them to get some dirt from their backyard and smudge on their forehead as a way of remembering.
“We’re all human,” he said. “We all come into the world the same way. We all go out of the world the same way, in a sense. There’s common humanity and there’s a sense of humility that comes with remembering what exactly it is that we are. And when you strip away all of our opinions and ideas and ideals, we’re all made up of the same stuff and we return to that same stuff. And maybe that sense of humility could be something that helps bring us back together and gives us the ability to have conversations with each other and listen to each other again and remember that it’s not all about us.”
Myers, who has been at St. Andrew’s since 2017, said the church made the decision to close a week before they were told, following the emergence of COVID-19 last year, and didn’t reopen until November for members to receive communion. The church, which has between 40-50 members, is still not open for normal church services but Myers said about half of the members receive communion regularly.
A normal Ash Wednesday service and communion consists of worshippers going through a liturgy, then Myers would impose the ashes on their foreheads, and then all would celebrate the Eucharist together. Myers said instead, the service will be available online via Zoom or Facebook at noon for anyone to take part in. He has mailed packages of ash and instructions about how to mix the ashes and what to do with them. He and his team have also put together some worship packets for at-home use, which include daily readings and daily prayers that people can use for the duration of Lent in preparation for Easter. Those who feel comfortable are welcome to receive communion at St. Andrews after the online service until 2 p.m. The church is located at 2404 N. Howard St in Spokane.
According to Church Council President Debbie Dumroese, Moscow’s Emmanuel Lutheran Church initially struggled to adapt to necessary changes due to COVID-19. However, it has found its stride. One of the goals of this year’s Ash Wednesday service is to touch on all of people’s senses, including sight, touch, and hearing. The Lutheran service, which includes a greeting, scripture reading, and the blessing of the ashes, will happen in 10-minute increments from 4 p.m to 6 p.m, providing flexibility for those who cannot drive after dark or those who work a normal 9-5 schedule to make it.
“The nice thing about it though,” Dumroese, who has been a member for 35 years, said, “Is that we can broadcast our musicians playing in our church outside into people’s cars. And so if you really wanted to spend time praying or just meditating with some music in the background, the parking lot is a great place to do it.”
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