Suncoast churches celebrate Ash Wednesday in unique style due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Suncoast Commemorates Ash Wednesday

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - On Ash Wednesday, the Suncoast faithful came out in a socially distant way to mark the beginning of Lent on the Christian calendar. Despite the pandemic, people still received their traditional ashes, but differently than normal.

Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, the Rev. Charleston Wilson, said in this holiday, the main focus is touch.

“For Ash Wednesday such a key is touch, touching the forehead making the sign of the cross,” said Wilson.

Wilson said due to the nature of the holiday they had to get a little innovative with how they conduct the ceremony.

“We’ve taken medical Q-tips that are about this long that have already been dipped in the ash,” said Wilson. “We’ll extend the arm with a mask, of course, we don’t go anywhere without these and we mark the sign of the cross on the forehead.”

Wilson said they did not opt to do drive-through or on-the-go options like other churches in the area.

“It’s a bit lacking for us, the idea of the ashes apart from the entirety of the service, impoverishes it, so we decided not to do ‘ashes to go,’” said Wilson.

Meanwhile, at St. Martha Catholic Church in Sarasota, Father Fausto Stampiglia said they offered on-the-go options due to the number of people allowed inside the building.

“We do give ashes for people who are confined at home because remember only one-third could come and two-thirds are at home,” said Stampiglia.

Instead of modifying the service for those who did attend, Stampiglia said they decided to impose ashes the old-fashioned way.

“We cannot go from one to another touching the forehead, so we had to go back to the ancient way and sprinkle some of the ashes on the forehead,” said Stampiglia.

At Our Lady of the Angels in Lakewood Ranch, about 300 people turned out for Mass in a sanctuary that normally seats 1,100, they also socially distanced, while the local parish priest administered ashes on parishioners’ heads.

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