Local churches adjust programming to hold COVID-safe Ash Wednesday services

Local News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Every year many Christian churches participate in Ash Wednesday, but services this year may look a bit different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ash Wednesday is always held 46 days before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of Lent. During a Wednesday mass or worship service, people are typically marked with ashes in a cross shape on their forehead by a priest or pastor.

The ashes are made by burning palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.

Last year, Virginians would have been able to attend Ash Wednesday services like normal just a few weeks before the entire state shut down due to COVID-19. This year, many coronavirus restrictions are still in place. Church attendance in general is already very different with many implementing social-distancing guidelines, mask mandates or going fully virtual for their services.

Ash Wednesday, which explicitly requires close contact in order to impose ashes, is requiring a little extra creativity from churches.

Ash Wednesday
Woman receives her ashes on Ash Wednesday during a drive-thru event at a local Richmond church. (Photo: 8News Talya Cunningham)

The Episcopalian Diocese of Virginia released guidelines stating that “in-person gatherings for worship on Ash Wednesday 2021 will not be possible” due to COVID-19 infection and death rates. Instead of traditional services or drive-through events, the diocese is recommending virtual worship and imposing ashes at home.

According to the dioceses, ashes can be imposed by anyone who is baptized. They give an outline of how to set up your own ashes at home.

The guidelines state that ashes can be gathered in a small bowl at home either from a fireplace, fire pit, burning of leaves or burning of palms. Then it is suggested that one person in the household be responsible for giving the ashes. They suggest that person use a book of common prayer or follow along with a virtual service or posted bulletin to ensure the process is done correctly and the appropriate words are used.

For those interested in viewing a Catholic mass, The Catholic Diocese of Richmond will be holding a livestreamed Ash Wednesday Mass at 9 a.m. The mass will be presided by Bishop Knestout.

Reveille United Methodist Church will be holding a virtual Ash Wednesday service on Wednesday. Starting at 6 a.m. the service will be released to view online. The video will include music, prayer and footage from Shalom Farms.

Other churches in the area are hosting drive-up services.

Center Church in Richmond will be holding Ash Wednesday at Triangle Park off of Harrison Street. They ask that participates drive up in their car wearing a mask and roll their windows down to receive a blessing and the imposition of ashes. They will also be handing out cups of coffee. The event will start at 11 a.m. and continues until 2 p.m.

First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue in Richmond will be welcoming people to their parking lot for a drive-by event. Interested people can pull into their parking lot on Mulberry Street to receive the imposition of ashes from 12:30 to 6 p.m.

A minister will meet each car and impose ashes using a “clean cotton swab.” Masks are required for this event.

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