I was to be a guest speaker for a few days at an Episcopalian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The Cathedral of Advent is one of the most evangelical Episcopalian churches in America. I was picked up from the airport and driven straight to an Ash Wednesday service. Sitting near the front I soon realised that they were all getting ash on their head.
This was not the practice of Protestants in Ballymena where I grew up. I will be honest. I felt awkward. In Northern Ireland we are conditioned to what is Catholic and what is Protestant. The differences are dug deep.
There was nothing I could do though and I went forward and in a prayer blessing I received my ash. I will be honest again. I was glad that I was in Alabama as I left looking like a Catholic!!!!
In the years since then I have reassessed all those religious taboos in my homeland. There is often no Biblical weight to many of the taboos. I would be much easier now with that ash on my head, though I would be aware that I will be immediately stereotyped when people see it.
This year there is an Ash Wednesday service in St Marys Church in Chapel Lane, Belfast city centre. My predecessor in Fitzroy, Rev Dr Ken Newell, will preach.
Come along and experience the richness of such a service. There is no obligation to receive the ash but as a sign at the beginning of Lent of our journey towards Jesus’ death and resurrection, let me invite you to consider it. In other parts of the world many reformed Christians are happy wearing the mark of Christ’s death.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 26, 2020 @ 5.30pm
ST MARY’S CHURCH, 2-4 CHAPEL LANE, BELFAST BT1 1HH