Folks flocking to church won’t be an unusual sight today.


Because today marks the beginning of the Lenten season – the 40 days period of fasting and abstinence preceding Easter.

Technically it’s not a “holy day of obligation,” but for some reason Catholics in particular and Christians in general feel obligated to go to church and receive ashes – even if they don’t practice their religion on a regular basis.

The Catholics among them are called PACE Catholics – the acronym for Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas and Easter – 4 days when they feel they must attend religious services. Even if they don’t attend services on a regular basis, these are the days they make the time to go.

Now, it seems, to make life more convenient for you – if you’re not able to get to church, church will come to you.

For some Christian denominations, a cross of ash on the forehead for the first day of Lent is supposed to represent mortality, and a fleeting period of time on the Earth.
But not every Christian sets aside the time for a church service in the middle of a busy work week.

So instead of waiting in churches for parishioners who might never come, some clergy are going to the people — to the bus stops and coffee shops. They call it “Ashes to Go,” and it’s a way to reach out to the people where they are on this Christian holiday.

“People are busy – we understand,” said the Rev. Adele Hatfield, of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Lakes. “We’re not trying to beat up on them.”

“Once you get into the office, it’s not going to happen,” said Laura Farishon, of Rockaway, a Roman Catholic heading to work in Manhattan. “They (the churches) have to adjust.”

“I think it’s a great way to bring the church into the streets,” said Mike Muller, of Denville, a St. Peter’s parishioner on his way to work in Rutherford.

St. Peter’s is one of about 36 parishes from the Newark Episcopal Diocese that is taking part in “Ashes to Go” this year, said Nina Nicholson, a diocese spokeswoman. evening commute, the church said.

The phenomenon began on a St. Louis, Mo. street corner in 2007, according to the Episcopal Church. In the Ash Wednesdays since, the phenomenon has grown and gone viral, spreading across the country — and among denominations.

The Roman Catholic Church also has some outreach on this Ash Wednesday. Later this morning, the St. John the Evangelist Church in Bergenfield will have its own version of “Ashes to Go” at the town’s senior center; St. Peter’s Church in Belleville will have a similar outreach going at the Belleville Senior Center, and at town hall, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese.

But generally, Ash Wednesday is tied to liturgy and services in a Roman Catholic church, Goodness said this morning.

The faithful commuters seemed fulfilled as they headed to work.

“It’s perfect — the churches are not always open, and you don’t always have time,” said Katherine Hintz, of Parsippany, on her way to work in Basking Ridge.

Hatfield, waiting at the bus stop before dawn, said she and Duke were next heading toward a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Here’s what I think is wrong with that – and it has little to do with the obligation of getting ashes.

It has more to do with our preoccupation of not wanting to upset our daily schedules – and just taking time out for ourselves.

To look around us, and perhaps just to take a moment to be thankful for what we have.

In other words, take a breath! And realize that we’re only here for a little while.

And if I remember my catechism correctly, isn't' that what the day is all about?