Ashes to Go – Bishop of Durham crosses shoppers’ heads in mobile Ash Wednesday service

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Revd Paul Butler, takes to the streets of Houghton for Ash Wednesday.
The Bishop of Durham, the Right Revd Paul Butler, takes to the streets of Houghton for Ash Wednesday.
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A NEW approach has been taken to mark the start of lent, as a church leader showed some street spirit.

The Durham Diocese took a fresh approach to a centuries-old tradition out into a town centre with the help of the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.

St Michael and All Angels in Houghton has joined the new international movement Ashes to Go.

It sees clergy and lay people visiting bus stops, street corners, coffee shops and train stations to mark the foreheads of passers-by with ashes and invite them to repent of past wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and renewal.

Yesterday they introduced the practice to the town, one of the first times it has been staged in the UK.

Churchgoers offered the new approach on The Broadway and were joined by the bishop.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the holy season of Lent, which is a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Easter for the church.

For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the face at the beginning of that season as a reminder of mortal failings and an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness.

Ashes to Go offers the chance to take part in the tradition to those who have lost their connection to a church, or have never participated before, according to the Reverend Canon Sue Pinnington, Rector of Houghton.

She said: “Ashes to Go is about bringing the important traditions of our faith out from behind church doors and into the places we need them every day.

“It allows people to see the church on the streets, where they are, and dealing with issues that they may have, through prayer, putting ashes on the head or through conversations.”

Bishop Paul said, who said the approach was being adopted on such a scale for the first time in the UK this year, said: “People are perhaps losing the sense of Lent and doing this reminds people about Ash Wednesday and gives them the opportunity to think about their mortality and the forgiveness of Christ.

“It is a conversation starter and some of the conversations that have been created through this have been very interesting.”