Churches in Philadelphia region get creative for Ash Wednesday

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season for Christians, but churches are being forced to get creative this year due to COVID-19.

In Haddonfield, New Jersey, drive-thru ashes are being offered at First Presbyterian Church.

"They're going to come through and roll down their windows and we'll greet them," said Pastor Doug Gerdts.

It's as simple as it sounds. Gerdts and Pastor Nikki Passante will be waiting under their stone portico from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"We will ask if you'd like ashes, or if you just want a blessing, we'll do that," said Gerdst.

"One of the great things about this congregation is it has made a conscious choice not to worship together until everyone can worship together so no one feels excluded," said Passante.

The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook is offering walk-up ashes at the front door. Father Martini Shaw says he won't physically be touching anyone either.

"I want people to have an opportunity to come as close to being inside the church as possible. I will be using individual Q-tips for each person to do the imposition of ashes," said Father Shaw.

As for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in-person services are happening at all their parishes.

"We will live stream the 12:05 p.m. Mass here at the Basilica, but everyone is encouraged to come to church. It is safe to come to church," said Father Dennis Gill.

The City of Philadelphia has released guidance for religious institutions during the pandemic including mask use, indoor gathering limits, and social distancing.

Gill says you will have the option to have ashes imposed the traditional way or a contactless way.

"There will be the option where some parishes will choose to sprinkle the ashes on the head of people, which is the way it is done in most of the world," said Gill.

Most churches are also offering a pre-recorded service before you get the ashes on their websites. So you're urged to check those out as well.
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