Some people weren't sure what to make of it; others were simply curious about the two young women standing with crosses on their foreheads in front of a big sign labeled "Ashes to Go" on the train platform of the Edgewood MARC station Wednesday morning.
"Some people came up really silently and said, 'Can I have some ashes, please?' and went back inside [the train station]," the Rev. Shannon Sullivan said. "One lady said, 'I thought that was a Catholic thing.' "
Sullivan, a new pastor at Presbury United Methodist Church, teamed up with the Rev. Catherine Parker, of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, in a new project to offer "Ashes to Go" around Edgewood on Ash Wednesday morning.
They invited MARC passengers to have ashes smeared on their foreheads, in keeping with the start of the Lenten season. The Ashes to Go team was already in place for the station's computer rush at about 6:30 a.m. and again at 8:30 a.m. Around 10 a.m., they stationed themselves outside the Edgewood Food Lion.
"It was great this morning. We had a few people," Sullivan said, her breath visible as she spoke in the cold morning with temperatures still in the low teens.
The two pastors had to deal with a few unexpected challenges, one being frozen ashes.
Parker had described the project earlier as "a shot in the dark," not knowing what they might get but excited by the prospect of bringing worship to people.
Ash Wednesday is most visible for the ashes Christians often wear on their forehead, but it is also part of launching a season of repentance and fasting in the weeks leading up to Easter.
"We thought it was important because too often, we do things in the church and people never see what happens in the church," Sullivan explained about their "Ashes to Go" idea.
"A lot of people are really seeking renewal and just kind of a spiritual center," she said.
One woman quickly accepted the ashes as she rushed off to catch the train. Sullivan said they have done a lot of education, as some people think the imposition of ashes is only a Catholic ritual or are unsure of what Ash Wednesday is about.
Parker noted the pastors "get to enter [people's] journey here as they get ready to head off to work."
"People like the idea of being a public witness in that way, where they don't have to say anything," Parker added about the idea of ashes.
One Edgewood man, who said he attends both Parker's and Sullivan's church, joined the two women, with ashes already on his forehead that morning.
Dave Groth said the ritual was meaningful to him.
"This is the first time I have done this," he said about the ashes, noting he was baptized a Lutheran. "I believe in the Bible and believe in the Lord."
Despite the cold and the reactions some of the people they met who didn't quite understand what was happening, Sullivan and Parker seemed pleased with their "Ashes to Go" debut.
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"Even if we only touch two or three people, that is what it's supposed to be," Sullivan said.