Bob Leopold, a missioner at Southside Abbey, blesses Jama Jacks from her car on Ash Wednesday in Chattanooga. Ashes to Go is a movement through the Episcopal Church to bring Ash Wednesday to those who may not be able to make it to a service. (Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press)

Bob Leopold, a missioner at Southside Abbey, blesses Jama Jacks from her car on Ash Wednesday in Chattanooga. Ashes to Go is a movement through the Episcopal Church to bring Ash Wednesday to those who may not be able to make it to a service. (Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press)

30 seconds of God: 'Ashes to Go' takes liturgy to the streets

For the Chattanooga Times Free Press

The priest stood alone on the edge of the car-clogged road, ashes in hand. A lid protected her canister from the wind, advice she read earlier on a tip sheet.

She watched for brake lights, a friendly smile. It was the before-school rush as parents delivered their children to Ooltewah Elementary just down the road. She adjusted her white and purple vestments.

"I thought that time they were coming over," Lou Parsons of St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ooltewah said, laughing, as a green minivan passed.

It was Ash Wednesday, a day when millions of Christians observe the beginning of Lent, a solemn commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert and a lead-up to Easter.

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," priests recite each season, using ashes on their thumbs to trace the sign of the cross on the foreheads of believers.

It's a time of prayer and reflection. But Parsons wasn't banking on everyone to make it to the special noon or evening service on Wednesday. People are busy. They have jobs. The kids have basketball practice.

So she took Ash Wednesday outside, a few yards beyond the church walls to bear witness on the gravel turnaround on Ooltewah-Georgetown Road.

"It's a way of taking the liturgy to the streets literally," Parsons said.

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