Northern Indiana parish imposes ‘Ashes to Go’ as Episcopal churches mark Ash Wednesday

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Feb 14, 2024

The Rev. Cathy Carpenter, priest-in-charge at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Valparaiso, Indiana, imposes ashes on a driver on Feb. 14, 2024. The church offers Ashes to Go as a convenience for people who are unable to attend full Ash Wednesday services in the middle of the week. Photo: Shireen Korkzan/ENS

[Episcopal News Service — Valparaiso, Indiana] In this suburb of Chicago, Illinois, the Rev. Cathy Carpenter, priest-in-charge at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, spent the early morning of Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, imposing ashes on drivers and their passengers following the circular drive to the parish entrance.

“There are all kinds of people who, for whatever reason, can’t come to a full Ash Wednesday service. It could be because of work, kids’ schedules, all kinds of reasons,” Carpenter told Episcopal News Service in person. “Somebody came with their junior high or high school kids first thing at 7 o’clock sharp before going to school.”

Episcopal congregations churchwide offer Ashes to Go as a convenience for people who are unable to attend worship services in the middle of the week. Carpenter said the quick option is especially popular for people with busy schedules, and imposing ashes outside of church property is not unheard of. In 2010, Chicago and Missouri-area clergy and lay Episcopalians began imposing ashes to people in public areas, including suburban train platforms, coffee shops and outside grocery stores and laundromats. The movement, called Ashes to Go, is open to all branches of Christianity and “creates opportunities for people to take a fresh look at the church and the gospel.”

“Getting ashes in this way really started in places like train stations, subway stations, mass transit, where people would be going to work and shopping — shopping malls, city centers,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes places even in the edges of good-sized towns like Valparaiso are ideal.”

This year, 29 people got their ashes via St. Andrew’s “drive-thru.” Carpenter also distributed brochures with Ash Wednesday prayers and Lenten resources to the drivers and crayons to children. She said she didn’t know most of the people who drove in for ashes, but she didn’t mind because “everyone’s welcome.”

“A gentleman told me he’s Catholic, but he comes to our drive-thru for ashes every year because a few years ago he was undergoing treatment for cancer,” Carpenter said. “His cancer has gone into remission, but he still comes every year to get ashes from us.”

Even though pandemic measures have lifted, drive-thru options remain popular, and many other Episcopal churches have continued the tradition.

In Ponce, Puerto Rico, the Rev. Edgar Giraldo Orozco, rector of Parroquia Ayudada Santa María Virgen, imposed ashes on shoppers as a local grocery store:

In Toano, Virginia, Hickory Neck Episcopal Church advertised its Ashes to Go service on Facebook:

In Huntsville, Alabama, the Rev. Rose Veal Eby, priest associate of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Huntsville, Alabama, went to a homeless camp and shelter in the city to impose ashes and distribute Narcan and information pamphlets on how to use it, as well as prayer cards.

In Austin, Texas, Jubilee Episcopal Church advertised imposing Ashes to Go on its Instagram page with a photo saying “Ash Wednesday is for lovers,” acknowledging the fact that Ash Wednesday 2024 falls on Valentine’s Day:

On Facebook, the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, advertised its offering of Ashes to Go on Facebook:

“You could call getting Ashes to Go ‘Ash Wednesday light,’” Carpenter said. “It’s a very brief encounter, but the people who come here are very grateful to have the opportunity to get ashes at all, because it’s just not going to work in their life otherwise.” 

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at