Marking Ash Wednesday in 2021

A faithful innovation for remembering the start of Lent


By Pastor Sara Gorman

As a first call pastor, I have been dreaming of marking these holy days with my congregation, but with the pandemic still in full-force, I knew things couldn’t be as I imagined. So, it was time to imagine differently. 

Since the church I serve is still only worshipping online (St. John’s Lutheran in Marion, Wisconsin) a regular Ash Wednesday service was out of the question. We have been doing drive-by Communion once a month, and with a decent turnout, it’s been a great way to connect with the congregation. I realized that since we are doing drive-by Communion the weekend before Ash Wednesday, it would certainly be easy to pass out ashes for individuals to impose on their families.

Ashes were ordered, 2 ounce food service containers with lids were ordered, and the plan was to put a little bit of dry ashes in the containers and pass them out that way. I talked over this idea with my sister-in-law, and she encouraged me to make a sticker to put on the lids of the ashes transforming it from a food service container into something that had significance. 

And the design came. 

I made the stickers using my Cricut and 8.5 x 11 sticker paper. However, this could also be done in Publisher, Word, or other computer programs. The benefit to using the Cricut is it writes and cuts, so I didn’t have to make my design fit a pre-cut circle. 

Then, the community got involved! A volunteer came in and put the stickers on the lids. I put a little bit of ash in each container. I found the easiest way to do this was to pour them into one container and portion them that way. Using a spoon was difficult and pouring from the bag of ashes itself was too messy. 

Now, the containers are all stacked up in a basket ready to be handed out along with a paper that will instruct the congregation how to apply the ashes. (Don’t use water or it will burn. If you want to pat your finger in oil before applying the ashes, they will likely stick better and form a more evenly made cross.)

During our pre-recorded Ash Wednesday service, there will be a spot in the liturgy for imposition of ashes and I will invite the congregation to participate from home at that time. 

While it’s not the same, it’s something that is relatively easy to make happen, is safe, very low-contact, and is fairly inexpensive. 

It’s not what I imagined Ash Wednesday would look like, but I am confident it will still be memorable for the congregation. 

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