Mary turned toward him. "I don't know! What do you think about Ash Wednesday?"
"We should have a service. We should have ashes. Churches have ashes on ash Wednesday." Many from the meeting chimed in.
"What would that look like?"
People shared stories of services they'd been to and reported what they already knew other churches were doing. Mary managed to lead the group to Wednesday morning at 10am, since that is our standard time for "non-sunday" events. She could hear Liz's anxiety in her head "we always get kicked out if we are on the common on any day other than Sunday", and she knew that SHE was busy, so she was promising Liz's time, not her own.
Despite her anxiety, Liz thought it was a good idea. The area is saturated in Catholicism, even for people who were not raised in the tradition, so it is likely that some people would respond to the idea. And if no one came to worship, she could walk up the street offering ashes. "Yup," she said, perhaps a little too strongly, as if convincing herself. "Yes, we'll have a 10 minute service at the common at 10am, and then I'll walk up the street to hand out ashes."
Liz announced this for two Sundays, but did little else to prep for the service. Which is why Tuesday afternoon she was in her back yard standing in a foot of snow, with the grill open and a pan of palms, and a box of matches.
If you are ever in the Holy Lands, threatened by forest fire, be assured, you can use Palms to protect you from the oncoming heat. They do not burn. Obviously that is not completely true, you've seen the burnt palms at Ash Wednesday services for years. But it is true that a lit Palm will not stay lit. The ashes only burn if there is a heat source aimed directly at them. After an hour of frustration and very wet shoes she brought in the scrapings of ashes and a lot of chunks of partially burnt leaves. "I wonder what paper looks like when it is burned" she asked her partner, Ken.
Luckily, Ken does not sleep much, and finds such challenges interesting. So at 6am the next morning he turned the sad bunch of scraps into half a teaspoon of ashes, using some combination of the oven, the grill, and the stove top. Liz didn't ask for details. He ground the final bit in the spice mortar, and left for work.
For some reason Liz was concerned that this was sufficient quantity and decided to burn a page of the newspaper. Since her shoes were now dry, she opted for the stove, and lined a frying pan with aluminum foil, dropped in a crumbled piece of newspaper, and a lit match.
For those of you who don't already know this, newspaper DOES burn easily. With huge flames. Up into the microwave above. Up into the vent, which she had (wisely?) turned on first. Moving quickly, Liz found a lid, plopped it onto the pan, and went to take the battery out of the now blaring smoke detector. She wondered how long she had before the sprinkler system went off.
The paper had burned nicely however, so those ashes where mixed with the palms, and ground with the pestle, re-burned to get rid of still readable news items, and then transferred to two tiny tupperware containers. There were now two teaspoons of ashes!
So prepared, Liz printed off bulletins and readings, and found a stole and raced out to Worcester. She had printed 10 bulletins but promised herself not to be disappointed in the attendance. She found parking at the Library lot and was pleased with herself for being on time. Then she saw Terence across the park, heading up to the plaza where Worcester Fellowship worships and she smiled to herself. This was going to be great!
When she got to the plaza Terence was gone, but Rose assured her he'd be back. The wind made the wait cold, and there was still 10 minutes to start. But Rose and Liz shared stories and then Brian came by and showed off the pictures of his sister's wedding and rambled on and on about how beautiful it had been. At 10:05, Rose tapped Liz on the shoulder and said she was leaving.
"Wait, you have to get ashes." She reached into her plastic bag, past the bulletins, and readings, and the stole, and grabbed the tupperware and opened it. Ashes immediately flew into the wind, into their eyes, into the sky, onto the ground. Finally, holding the lid at an angle over the container, Liz got some on her finger and onto Rose's head and then Brian's.
"Thanks!" They offered and were gone.
"Ok," liz reassured herself. It's ok. We didn't need a service. "I wonder where Terence is?" Putting on the stole, and her gloves, tying her hat under her chin, and holding the tupperware with the lid firmly on, she headed over toward the bus stop. She asked if anyone wanted ashes? No one replied, and several people moved away from her. Moving on to another stop the bus arrived just as she did. At the street corner she got pulled herself together and asked again "Anyone want ashes for ash wednesday?" Sideways glances and people moving away.
Walking the next block the voices in her head were louder than before. "Really, why did we think that *I* was the person to do this work?" and "I've never really been good at this part of the ministry" and "I can't keep walking down the street with this stole on" and "why didn't I ask Ellie or Georgeanne or SOMEONE to come do this with me?" and " We know this isn't what I do best!"
She turned toward the library, but then realized that if she took this shortcut she wouldn't even run into any people she KNEW. So she put away the stole and ashes and headed back to the main road, still headed home. "At least I'll get some work done when I get home" she consoled herself.
But there, on the main street was Juan-Louis. "Juan, hi!" Liz walked over quickly. "Do you want ashes?"
"No, but I'm hungry. And I've got an apartment. Look, here is my key."
"That's wonderful!" Liz exclaimed, inwardly feeling huge relief. THIS is her strength, creating deeper connections to people she already knows. Listening to people's lives, helping them make their own next steps.
"I'm hungry, too. Why don't you tell me all about it at Dunkin Donuts?"
(From Mar. 11th, 2011. See more about Worcester Fellowship at www.worcesterfellowship.org)