Faithful throughout the world participated in Ash Wednesday services yesterday at the start the Lenten season, and hundreds took the opportunity to join one Methodist congregation in its "Drive Thru Ashes" event.
Munholland United Methodist Church of Metairie sponsored a "Drive Thru Ashes" event in which hundreds of drivers received the ashy cross upon the forehead.
"This event is about taking the church into the community and meeting people where they are. Many of the people who came through yesterday were on their way to or from work or unable to attend services at their church," said the Rev. Tim Smith of Munholland UMC to The Christian Post, explaining that this was the second year the congregation has hosted the event.
"They wanted to 'start their day' with the observance of Lent and the marking of ashes. It's a reflection of the still strong spiritual hunger and desire still very much a part of people's lives."
Both this year and last hundreds of people went to the "Drive Thru Ashes" with Smith telling CP that many attendees this year had come the year before.
"We were very grateful they chose to return and it speaks of the power of this event in their lives and spiritual journey for Lent," continued Smith.
"We ask each person, carload if there is anything we can pray for. They responded, sometimes with very personal concerns or burdens in their life, and we pray with them right there before we impose ashes. We believe it made it much more personal from them."
In addition to prayer requests, volunteers for the drive thru also handed a Lenten devotional guide that included daily Bible readings and Lenten prayers.
An annual holy day on the liturgical calendar followed by many Christian churches, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season known as Lent.
Generally Ash Wednesday is observed with a worship service centered on spiritual discipline and a reminder that all people are destined to die.
A key part of the observance is when a pastor or priest takes palm branches from last year's Palm Sunday and burns them to ashes and then places said ashes in the form of a cross on a person's forehead.
When asked by CP what he hoped drivers took away from the "Drive Thru Ashes," Smith replied many things, "first, that they know through this act they have communicated to God their intent to observe Lent and follow Jesus in His footsteps.
"Second, to feel loved and cared for through the personal prayers we were given the opportunity to share. This was often shown through a hand on the shoulder as we prayed for them.
"Third, that they would feel blessed through this experience and encounter with our church, ministers, staff and laypeople. [And] fourth, that they and the community would know we as a church are seeking to meet them where they are in their spiritual journey and be there for them."