At noon Wednesday, Christians at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church solemnly lined up in the sanctuary to have ashes placed on their foreheads in the sign of the cross.
Later, on the sidewalks of Broad Street, ministers from local churches prayed with passersby and placed ashes on their foreheads in a similar fashion.
In traditional and nontraditional ways, area Christians observed Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, is a time of spiritual renewal and celebration before the resurrection, said Father Jerry Ragan, of St. Mary’s.
For Amy Rose, a parishioner of St. Mary’s, Lent is a time for her family to focus on growing closer to God.
“To me, Lent is just a time of renewal of my faith, and a time for me to just kind of refocus on Christ and what he did for us, and to be more conscious of my prayer,” she said.
Rose and her friend, Becky Wisner, attended the noon Mass, one of four held at the church. Wisner said her daughter attended an earlier Mass with her school and her husband would attend a later Mass after work.
“I’ll be cooking dinner while he’s here so we can have dinner when he gets home,” she said.
Despite multiple Masses and services, many people are unable to attend an Ash Wednesday service.
That’s where Ashes to Go comes in.
Ministers from 10 area churches took Ash Wednesday observances to people where they were, in at least eight locations, from homeless shelters to Starbucks to Broad Street.
“The idea is to reach people who either can’t make it to their own church’s Ash Wednesday service, or the people who have been away from church and maybe feel an inkling, for whatever reason, to receive ashes,” said the Rev. Kelsey Hutto, the assistant rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the local organizer.
Ashes to Go is part of a larger, national movement designed to move faith practices outside the church walls.
Hutto, Roger Gardner of the Bridge Ministry, and the Rev. Jim Shumard of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Waynesboro, Ga., prayed with Kimberly Allen-Geter in front of the Imperial Theatre just before Hutto placed ashes on her forehead.
Allen-Geter had just left a job interview and said she would have been attending services at her home church, Victory World Church in Norcross, Ga., on Wednesday if she had not recently moved to Augusta. She currently commutes on weekends to continue attending her church.
Jessica Van Tassel saw Ashes to Go on Facebook and took her three children Frederick, 4, Grace Ann,
5, and Hope, 2, to Broad Street in search of the ministers.
Frederick is autistic, which makes sitting through church services without disturbing others difficult.
“This is perfect,” she said. “He can just be himself.”
Van Tassel said she believes her children need more faith in their lives, but her family doesn’t adhere to one religious tradition and does not maintain a church membership. She said she is looking for a nondenominational church to attend regularly.
Hutto said Ashes to Go is not intended to replace attendance in a regular Ash Wednesday service.
“I still believe if you can get to a service, you should go to a service,” she said.
“This is meant to reach a need. That need is ‘I can’t make it to the service and I want to do this.’ This need is, ‘I haven’t been to church in a while and this is a step forward.’ Or, ‘I want to change my life around and someone finally asked me about it.’”