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All aboard for Ash Wednesday

Episcopal minister shares thoughts on why she brings faith to platform
by: JIM CLARK The Rev. Jennifer Creswell of St. Luke Episcopal Church offers blessings and ashes to the community at the MAX station next to Gresham City Hall on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22. Here she blesses Ann Muir.

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Rev. Jennifer Creswell of St. Luke Episcopal Church, 120 S.W. Towle Ave., left the warm sanctuary of her congregational building for the chilly, rainy MAX platform next to Gresham City Hall.

For the second year in a row, the priest was offering ashes and prayers to passengers on Ash Wednesday as they awaited or departed MAX Blue Line trains. Meanwhile, St. Luke parishioners passed out fruit, muffins and other treats to passers-by.

The Outlook asked the cleric to share her thoughts with readers as to why she was doing this. Here's her response:

So, I heard from a friend in New York last year that she was planning to go to a subway station and offer ashes to commuters. I thought it was a great idea. In fact, I discovered a Facebook group called 'Ashes to Go' for Episcopal priests around the country doing similar things on Ash Wednesday.

'I am fascinated by the way churches are turning inward as we face the rapid decline of our institution. We put more and more energy into maintaining buildings and making ourselves - the people already in church - comfortable. These are natural fear responses.

'But in the gospels, Jesus tells his friends, 'Don't be afraid.' He also spent a lot of time going out, being with people, blessing them, healing them, feeding them.

'At St. Luke's, we are often asking ourselves how we can be more like Jesus, not how we can be more like a church. One of the ways we've been trying to do this is by going out into our community and blessing what is already happening here.

'Episcopalians are good at blessing; it's a big part of our tradition. We have offered teddy bear blessings at the Teddy Bear Parade. We've offered blessings to MAX commuters.

'We realize that there are a lot of people in the community who, for whatever reason, do not have a relationship with a faith community, but who nonetheless want to feed their spirits. For people who are or were once part of a liturgical church, the tradition of receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday may be an elemental ritual that is comforting or nourishing.

'We know people may not be planning to go to church today. They may not want to. They may not be able to. They may not feel comfortable. But they appreciate receiving ashes. So we bring ashes out to the people.

'This is the second year I've brought ashes to the MAX. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to meet people and hear a bit of their story on the train platform. I've gotten to speak with lapsed Catholics, with evangelical Christians who don't share the practice of receiving ashes and with people of no faith tradition.

'We've talked about the work people do, about their families, their vacations, their commute. I'm not interested in making converts or new members of St. Luke's. I'm interested in making relationships.

'There were nine people, including me, from St. Luke's this morning. One of them, Mark Ebberts, said he felt the commuters today offered us hospitality by being gracious to us, whether they wanted ashes or not.

'We at St. Luke's love our community. We give that love form by offering practical aid in many ways, like food, financial, and other contributions to Zarephath Kitchen, which feeds the hungry, and Human Solutions, which helps low-income folks. We also give our love form by being present in the community like this.'



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