Considering the strain and changes that have come in the last year, the significance of Ash Wednesday and the six weeks leading up to Easter has remained, if not increased, for those who celebrate it.
Despite the masks and other precautions, the message from the Rev. Adrien Dawson, rector at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Frederick, as she put ashes on people's foreheads for the first day of Lent remained the same: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
“All of the stress and strain that people are under, they need their faith practices even more to be able to cope,” said Dawson.
This year, the church offered drive-through ashes and mainly targeted congregation members. In years past, church leadership stood on the corner of North Market and Church streets offering ashes to passersby. But in order to keep people safe and avoid people gathering, leadership offered ashes and communion just outside the church this year.
Those administering the ashes had masks and face shields to protect themselves and those receiving the ashes. Those who received communion and ashes also had masks.
The church also gave out 100 Lent bags for people to administer ashes at home as they watched any of the three Ash Wednesday services online.
“The church calendar marks time throughout the year by helping people kind of focus their faith on a particular aspect of either Jesus’ life or the life of the Christian community,” Dawson said. “So when we get to Lent, we’re journeying with Jesus from the mountaintop.”
Dawson explained the story in the Bible about how Jesus was transfigured before some of his disciples and, while in the company of Elijah and Moses, God spoke to them.
“And then they come down the mountain,” Dawson said. “And so the idea is that from the Sunday prior to the first Sunday of Lent, in between there, Ash Wednesday falls and it’s the journey down the mountain."
"We’re remembering our mortality," Dawson continued. "We’re remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return as a way to enter into this season of journeying with Jesus towards the cross.”
As Lent begins, tradition is that people can fast from things for the coming 40 days, Dawson said. This allows people to begin new habits and be mindful of their faith journey. It also allows them to walk in solidarity with Jesus as he journeys through the wilderness after the mountaintop experience, she added.
And while Dawson described the entire year as an exercise in creativity, she said the church has tried to figure out ways to help people feel connected to the faith journey that is helping them get through the pandemic, political unrest and issues of racism.
“We’ve pretty much not skipped anything,” she said. “We’ve had to do it in different ways … Our goal has been to keep people plugged into their faith practice, because that’s what’s going to help them get through.”
Dawson noted that she’s grateful for the clear guidance provided by the Episcopal Church and leadership about what’s safe and what isn’t, including not allowing indoor in-person worship.
With the one-year anniversary of the start of lockdown around the corner, Dawson said it feels like Lent has lasted 365 days instead of 40.
“For me, I felt like it was important to be able to give people a tangible opportunity to recognize. We gave up hugging people. We gave up being in each other’s presence. We gave up having meals together. We gave up all this stuff a year ago, and we’ve not had Easter yet,” she said.