Ash Wednesday in a pandemic

Ash Wednesday 2021 takes place while the COVID-19 pandemic is active across most of the globe. New precautions must be taken to reduce the potential for disease transmission in Ashes to Go as well as all other activities. In many cases, it may not be advisable to offer Ashes to Go this year; in other cases, the adaptations will be significant.
If you are considering offering Ashes to Go in 2021, consider local conditions, disease transmission patterns, and your context very carefully.  Make plans to ensure you can follow CDC protocols, or the guidance of your local or national health authority.  

Things to think about:

  • All ministers and recipients of ashes should wear masks – plan ahead to provide masks if needed. 
  • Avoid crowding and ensure distancing. Plan your availability so that you won’t clog pedestrian traffic.  Know your space, and consider adding signs, sidewalk markers, or other indicators to help people maintain appropriate distance (6 feet or 1 meter) during the whole encounter of ashes and prayer. 
  • Stay outdoors if possible.  
  • Plan for contactless encounters. How can you offer a prayerful, welcoming, and holy encounter without direct contact?
    • Online forums have suggested applying ashes with a cotton swab, sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, or using gloves. Or providing individually packaged ashes for individuals to self-administer.
    • Test your plan!  Make sure your contactless approach will really work – really administer ashes and really reduce contact.
    • Be sure to have hand sanitizer or handwashing available in case of accidental contact.
  • Review your usual practices: if you usually engage people in conversation and individual or private prayer, how will you keep those encounters safe, distanced, welcoming, and brief?  If you usually attract crowds, or ask people to pray together, what should change this year to reduce the number of people gathered at any time, or eliminate group gathering?
  • Know whether you will need to provide for contact tracing, which may depend on your local health authorities or your judicatory’s guidance.

It may not be wise to physically offer ashes in unplanned encounters in many places in the world this year.  It’s important also to consider how you can offer a welcoming, holy, prayerful encounter in the midst of daily life in a new way this year. 

  • How can a prayerful, unexpected experience of God’s presence be offered online, or at greater distances?
  • What new opportunities to be present with prayer in daily life have appeared because of the pandemic? How will you use those this Lent?
  • What other ways can we help people encounter repentance and love in public places? 

Join this conversation in the Ashes to Go Facebook Group or Facebook Page!

General Resources for Ashes to Go

Want to offer “Ashes to Go” in your community?

First, you’ll want to think about where, what, who and how.  Check out the “Ashes to Go” Tip Sheet on the Episcopal Church’s Vital Practices site (disponible en español aquí), or use this planning guide.

Then, from this site, you can download sample liturgies and resource material.
If you have questions in your planning, check out the FAQ or drop us a line, or ask the collective experience of the Facebook group.

Recommended Reading:

City of God: Faith in the Streets, by Sara Miles
The author shares stories and reflections on Ash Wednesday ministry in the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District.

Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World, by Rebecca Wilson and Jim Naughton
Two communications professionals share smart insights and practical application about ways to get the word of God out in today’s fast-paced media world.  Fresh perspectives can help you think in new ways about evangelism through and beyond Ashes to Go.