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Do-it-yourself or ashes to go: Local churches get creative for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday at St. Andrews Episcopal Church.png
Posted at 2:05 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 19:21:35-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Bundled up in her lawn chair, parishioner Lois Gayle Davis sits ready for this year's Ash Wednesday service.

"It's cold," she says.

She has been attending St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Norfolk for seven decades, but this year's holy day is quite different.

"This is a first for it to be outside," Davis said.

About a dozen parishioners sat socially distanced on the church's front lawn, braving cold temperatures to mark the start of Lent.

"It is a time of reflection or repentance and renewal, and it is the 40 days leading up to Easter," said Pastor John Rohrs.

It is also the first time Rohrs won't be marking the sign of the cross on foreheads this year.

"This year we can't physically touch people with ashes, so we are using canisters they can pick up at the service," he said.

Churches across Hampton Roads are getting creative, whether it's with to-go ashes, virtual ceremonies or do-it-yourself.

"This is a day set aside by the church to face our own mortality," Rohrs said.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of shutdowns caused by COVID-19, Ash Wednesday is one of the few remaining worldwide events affected by the pandemic for the first time.

"This year more than ever, people are aware of their mortality and thinking and worried about loved ones and folks that have died," Rohrs said.

Davis, a shut-in senior, appreciated the change in a year of uncertainty.

"It was very different, kind of surreal, to put ashes on myself. It made me feel connected with everyone," she said.

A connection that remains - whether outside, virtual or to-go, the message of this day remains the same.

"We came from ashes, and we return to ashes," Rohrs said.

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