Many Boulderites live a "to-go" existence: A fast-paced job, a packed schedule and plenty of coffee to go.
Boulder churches who hope to celebrate Ash Wednesday in the community have decided to meet faithful residents in the small gaps in their hectic schedules. The result is Ashes to Go, a program that brings clergy onto Pearl Street and the University of Colorado campus to administer ashes as Boulderites run from task to task.
Ash Wednesday signifies the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, reflection and penance before Easter. Participants typically receive a cross on their foreheads made of ashes.
Wednesday afternoon, Boulder-area clergy will walk along Pearl Street and throughout the CU campus wearing their cassocks and carrying ashes. People from any faith background are welcome to stop and receive ashes and prayers in just a few minutes, then go about their lunch break, errand run or meeting, organizers said.
"People sometimes find it hard to leave work in the middle of the day in the middle of the week," said the Rev. Susan Springer of St. John's Episcopal Church, one of the churches that will roam Pearl Street to offer the Ashes to Go program. "We thought, why not just take this to the people?"
Pastors said the concept isn't exactly new, but is spreading each year around the city, state and county.
Nationally, the Ashes to Go concept has sprouted organically, said the Rev. Emily Mellott of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. Mellott is one of the founders of the Ashes to Go website, which offers resources and advice to congregations who want to set up their own mobile Ash Wednesday services.
Mellott's was one of three Episcopal congregations that in 2010 decided to take ashes and prayer services to bustling Chicago train stations, where people might not have time to attend a full Ash Wednesday service or had forgotten about the occasion.
There, they discovered "commuters hungry for a moment of prayer, renewal and grace," she stated in a blog post about the event.
In 2013, the Ashes to Go website logged events in 31 states and in the District of Columbia, as well as events in Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Those numbers only reflected the congregations that registered their events on the Ashes to Go website, but Mellott said many more congregations carried out "imaginative, vital, holy" versions of the program tailored to their individual communities.
In Boulder, the activity and energy on Pearl Street makes it an ideal location for Ashes to Go, Springer said.
Clergy will walk along Pearl for about an hour just after 1:30 p.m., weather dependent. They will represent some of Boulder's Episcopal churches, including St. John's, St. Aidan's and St. Mary Magdalene.
"We offer an extremely short prayer and the imposition of the ashes. Then, we wish people a holy Lent and they go on their way," Springer said.
At CU, pastors, reverends and other clergy will walk through the campus between 2 and 4 p.m., depending on the weather.
"It was a really lovely experience last year," the Rev. Mary Kate Réjouis of St. Aidan's Episcopal Church wrote in an email to churches participating in Ashes to Go this year.
Though the service wasn't for everyone — some avoided the offer or walked quickly by — "some bright and beautiful people ... really saw the grace of getting the ashes."
Tailoring Ash Wednesday services for today's fast-paced, ever-changing society is also the priority for a Broomfield church, which is organizing its own version of the "to go" concept.
Broomfield's Lutheran Church of Hope will offer a drive-through option where Pastor Scott McAnally will administer ashes to anyone who drives by in their cars from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m., 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. and 4:45 to 5:15 p.m.
Megan Quinn writes a faith column once a week for the Camera. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.