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Coconut Grove Church Holds Drive-Thru Ash Wednesday

Katie Lepri
Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy waits in front of St. Stephen's for passersby who want to receive their ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Rev. Jo-Ann Murphy, dressed in a black cassock, dug her fingers into a small glass goblet containing black, chalky ashes, which are made of burnt palms. She got a good coat before applying it on Gary Sullivan's forehead, making a cross.

“Remember you are dust, and dust you shall return,” said Murphy, an assistant rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, located near Peacock Park in Coconut Grove.

“Amen,” said Sullivan, who parked his bike on McFarlane Road.

Credit Katie Lepri / WLRN
Gary Sullivan takes a break from riding his bike to receive his ashes from Rev. Murphy Wednesday afternoon at St. Stephen's church.

For Christians, it's the annual Ash Wednesday ritual — the beginning of Lent, a holy time of prayer and fasting that lasts until Easter.

But here, it's happening outside the walls of a church and on the streets. 

St. Stephen’s has been running a sort of "drive-thru" for ashes called Ashes to Go for four years. Episcopal churches across the country have launched similar initiatives to draw people to take part in Ash Wednesday.

“It’s a quiet 10 seconds in the midst of our crazy lives,” Murphy said. “Maybe it’s start of a holy life on the other side of that 10 seconds."

Sullivan, who works with St. Stephen's youth group, said Ashes to Go serves to connect people back with their faith.

"It breaks down this wall of separation we see between the church and the public," he said.

Ashes to Go is also on brand for St. Stephen’s, which is known as a justice church. A huge banner emblazoned “Immigrants and refugees are welcome here” hangs indoors above the pews.

This year, the congregation, which partners with the organization People Acting for Community Together (PACT), has decided to prioritize three civic issues: immigration, affordable housing and gun violence, according to Murphy.

Church leaders and parishioners then call on city officials to address these issues.

“We’re on the forefront of causes that Jesus would’ve championed,” Murphy said.

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.