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2975: Ashes To Go, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Ashes To Go, Phoenix, AZ (Enquirer)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Ashes To Go, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Independent. Ashes To Go is a worldwide ministry begun in 2010 by three Episcopal churches in Chicago.
The building: Ashes were distributed today at the 19th Avenue and Montebello terminus of Phoenix’s light rail system. There is really nothing remarkable about a light rail station – there’s a large park and ride lot, ticket machines, benches to sit on while waiting for your train, etc. The Montebello station has only a few weeks left to enjoy its status as the western terminus of the light rail line, as an extension long under construction is scheduled to open soon.
The church: Quoting from their website: “The reminder that we are dust turns our attention to … God’s ability to heal the brokenness in our lives … That turning to God is the work of Lent ... We take ashes to the street corner because that reminder of need, humility, and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building.” Begun in 2010 in Chicago, the Ashes To Go movement “went viral” after receiving media attention and is today found throughout the United States. Any religious organization may participate and may list themselves on Ashes To Go’s website.
The neighborhood: Phoenix’s light rail system, opened in 2008, currently provides service along a 23-mile corridor that connects central Phoenix with the eastern suburbs of Tempe and Mesa. An extension is planned to open next month, with additional extensions planned for the near future. The Montebello station is in the neighborhood known as Christown, a rather seedy commercial and residential district that has seen better days but is trying hard to make a comeback. Christown Mall, once a fashionable shopping venue, now hosts bargain shops and a Walmart. Nearby are a bowling alley, Abrazo Community Hospital (formerly Phoenix Baptist Hospital), and a bar directly across the street from the hospital having the delightful name of The Recovery Room.
The cast: The Revd R. Craig Bustrin, vicar of St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Phoenix, vested in cassock, surplice, black stole or preaching scarf – I couldn't be sure – and a very fetching straw sunhat. There was also an assistant vested in cassock.
The date & time: Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Imposition of Ashes to Commuter Rail Passengers.

How full was the building?
At the high point, about a half dozen or so passers-by stopped to receive ashes, but I’m sure more arrived after I left.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
We stood for the imposition of ashes. No seats were provided.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived a bit early and sat at the train station. People came and went as trains arrived and left. Then I noticed Father Bustrin and his assistant setting things up just outside the station, so I wandered over there.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Let us pray: Almighty and merciful God …” (collect for Ash Wednesday from the Book of Common Prayer).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everyone was given a leaflet with the opening collect, the words of imposition, a brief explanation of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, and some information about St Mary’s Church.

What musical instruments were played?
None.

Did anything distract you?
Well, Father’s sunhat was indeed fetching! And the aroma of incense burning out in the open air was delightful! There was just enough of a breeze to keep the charcoal glowing despite the thurlble not being swung.

Ashes To Go, Phoenix, AZ (ceremony)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A table had been set up on which there were two candles and behind which was a tall metal cross. Incense was burned from a thurible resting on a stand. Some passers-by had questions about what was going on, which Father was glad to answer. Ashes were imposed using the prescribed words from the Prayer Book, followed by “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Bringing an ancient ceremony of the Church to an otherwise unchurched environment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Driving home afterwards in rush hour traffic! Also, sorry, but I have to fault Father's assistant for thinking that khaki slacks can be worn under a cassock.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I handed Father’s assistant my Mystery Worship calling card and asked if they were familiar with Ship of Fools. “Oh, yes,” Father said. “In fact, we were Mystery Worshipped on Good Friday a few years ago.” “That was me!” I confessed. We proceeded to have a delightful chat, but as a crowd was forming waiting to be ashed, I excused myself with a promise that I would visit St Mary’s again soon (as indeed I will – St Mary’s is Phoenix’s Anglo-Catholic church par excellence).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Upon arriving home, I stopped by my neighborhood Applebee’s for a decidedly non-Lenten dinner.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Ashes to Go is such a wonderful idea! I will probably stop by again next year.

Ashes To Go, Phoenix, AZ (Station)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A church service at a light rail station.
 
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