ESCONDIDO — Rev. Meg Decker of Escondido’s Trinity Episcopal Church politely approached a gentleman in a wheelchair who had just crossed the street.
“Would you like to receive ashes and a blessing?” she asked.
Standing at the corner of Grand Avenue and Broadway in downtown Escondido, she had a 50/50 shot. About half of the people she reached out to on Wednesday afternoon accepted her offer, while the rest declined with a smile.
Zaid Hightower welcomed her blessing, and tilted his head up so Decker could mark his forehead with ashes in the sign of the cross. He thanked her, then continued on his way to the bus.
In observance of Ash Wednesday on March 5, the Escondido Clergy Association held its first ever Ashes to Go celebration. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of penance and prayer for believers to prepare for Easter.
Stationed on the sidewalk, Decker, along with Methodist pastor Rev. Dr. Faith Conklin and Catholic priest Father Don Green offered blessed ashes and prayers to passersby.
“It’s a great way to bring the tradition of wearing ashes and entering the Lenten season to folks who may not otherwise go to church today,” said Green, who is a missionary for the Society of Apostolic Life. He helps run Our Lady of Angels, an Independent Catholic Churches parish on Fourth Avenue.
Over the course of two hours, the clergy members gave blessings to about 75 people, who were on their way to lunch, errands, meetings, and various other midday commitments.
Paul Lorson, a parishioner of First United Methodist Church who helped out, said that they encountered many people who did not know it was the beginning of Lent.
“I like the look of, ‘Oh crud, it’s Ash Wednesday,’” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve run up to a few cars,” said Decker with a laugh. “People roll down the windows, (and I) reached in and gave a blessing.”
Alex Perkins walked from her office to receive ashes with her coworker, Carolina Ruiz. They both said that with their busy schedules, they would not have gotten ashes had it not been for Ashes to Go.
“It was a great way to get a little exercise and get our ashes,” said Perkins.
Around noon, Claudia Campos and her son Alfredo pulled over after driving past the clergy members, and walked over to receive ashes.
Conklin, from First United Methodist Church, prayed and gave ashes to the pair.
Afterwards she smiled and said, “That’s the joy (of Ashes to Go). We may never connect again, but we did for that moment.”
By having clergy from different faiths participate, the event was also designed to promote the Escondido Clergy Association’s message of unity and support for all religions.
“Even though we don’t have the same faith or traditions, we support each other in reaching out to people to help them find God,” Green said.
“What brings us together is greater than what separates us,” Conklin added.
Conklin, Decker, and Green all said that Ashes to Go offered them the opportunity to get out of their parishes and engage with the community.
Decker said that today fewer and fewer people attend church and discussion of religion can often turn offensive. She aimed to change that trend by reaching out to people on the street with a hopeful, non-obtrusive message.
“We’re saying welcome,” Decker said. “We hope you know God’s love.”