There are certain times of year when people — even those who rarely step foot inside a church — feel a spiritual longing for the blessing and rituals of the church. Christmas and Easter are such times. And for many people, Ash Wednesday is another time of latent spiritual memory.
It provided a great opportunity to minister to many of our neighbors who would have never walked in the front door of our church, but now may do so.
Last year on Ash Wednesday, Trinity Church (a campus of Brentwood UMC) decided to reach out to a wide segment of our community, located near Nashville, by offering a “drive thru” imposition of Ashes. We set up on the roadside along a well-traveled commuter route. We carefully selected a location where people could easily pull on and off the highway.
We began with the morning rush hour at 6:00 a.m. Drivers-by were alerted to our presence by one of our team members standing on the shoulder of the road with a hand-lettered poster board that read “Ash Wednesday. Drive-thru Ashes and Prayer Up Ahead. Free Coffee.” We had a team of about eight people working, directing people in and serving coffee.
To each person who stopped we gave the imposition of Ashes, a pocket cross, and a free cup of Starbuck’s coffee. We also handed out a brochure specifically designed for this purpose. It provided an explanation of the imposition of Ashes, instruction on spiritual practices for Lent, basic information about our church, and an invitation to our Lenten sermon series.
The response went beyond anything we could have imagined! During a three-and-a-half hour period, between 100 to 125 vehicles came through. And many of those cars carried more than one individual. Sometimes we were doing two or three cars at a time. There were other cars that didn’t stop, but showed support by calling out “Thanks!” or “Great job!” or “What’s the name of your church?” to our volunteers on the street.
One of the most revealing aspects of this outreach was the response from our Hispanic brothers and sisters. Approximately 30 percent of those who came through were Hispanic. The effort helped awaken us to the “hidden” Hispanic population in our community. And it has ignited an important conversation around what a vital Hispanic ministry might look like.
This year, we plan to provide this ministry both in the morning as people are headed into work and in the afternoon as they are returning home from work. It provided a great opportunity to minister to many of our neighbors who would have never walked in the front door of our church, but now may do so.
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