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Today we’ll discuss how to observe Ash Wednesday while traveling.
I’ve left New Orleans for the frigid temperatures of the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York. As sad as I am to have left Mardi Gras before today’s climax of the Rex and Zulu parades, I think my liver is grateful. Tomorrow my attention turns from decadence to reflection as we enter the season of Lent.
Different Christian faith traditions vary somewhat in their observation of Ash Wednesday. In many faith traditions it is encouraged or even obligatory to attend a brief observance service to “receive ashes”. Receiving ashes is the symbolic act of having ashes rubbed on one’s forehead in the shape of a cross. These ashes are derived from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Ashes are viewed as an outward sign of repentance.
Some traditions also dictate fasting on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the Lenten season.
This year, as in many years past, I’ll be traveling on Ash Wednesday. As such, I’ll be on the lookout for a service to attend to obtain ashes. I’ve found many places to observe Ash Wednesday while traveling over the years.
Locations to Observe Ash Wednesday While Traveling
* Churches in the community I am visiting. Roman Catholic churches will be observing the holiday with a special mass on Ash Wednesday. Larger communities may hold more than one including morning, lunchtime, and evening observances. In recent years, it has also become more common for Protestants to also observe Ash Wednesday. Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian congregations to observe the rituals, for example. I’ve found most faith communities to be welcoming of travelers seeking to observe the day.
* Airport chapels Airports with an onsite chapel will often have special Ash Wednesday observances for travelers, airport employees, and airline personnel. Chicago area airport chapels, for example, have a published schedule of available services. In Charlotte, there will be hourly services from 8 am to 8 pm. JFK will offer three services and have envelopes of ashes available all day.
* Faith-based organizations. I work with hospitals and many of my clients are faith-based organizations. I’ve sometimes received ashes at an onsite chapel while in the middle of my workday. (One year I actually attended with most of the executive team from the organization I was visiting.) Universities (either faith-based or with an active student ministry) can be a good resource as well.
But if you miss all of these opportunities, do not despair. Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation in any Western faith tradition. (Not even Catholicism, although that is a common misconception). But hopefully observing Ash Wednesday while traveling will be easier for those who wish to.