Southwest Virginia churches adjust programming to hold COVID safe Ash Wednesday services

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(Photo: Courtesy MGN Online)

(WRIC/WFXR) — Every year, many Christian churches participate in Ash Wednesday. However, this year’s services may look a bit different in Virginia due to the ongoing pandemic.

Ash Wednesday is always held 46 days before Easter Sunday and marks the beginning of Lent. During a Wednesday mass or worship service, people are typically marked with ashes in a cross shape on their forehead by a priest or pastor.

The ashes are made by burning palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.

Last year, Virginians would have been able to attend Ash Wednesday services like normal just a few weeks before the entire state shut down due to COVID-19. This year, many coronavirus restrictions are still in place. Church attendance in general is already very different, with many implementing social distancing guidelines and mask mandates, or going fully virtual for their services.

Ash Wednesday — which explicitly requires close contact in order to impose ashes — is requiring a little extra creativity from churches on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The Episcopalian Diocese of Virginia released guidelines stating that “in-person gatherings for worship on Ash Wednesday 2021 will not be possible” due COVID-19 infection and death rates. Instead of traditional services or drive-through events, the diocese is recommending virtual worship and imposing ashes at home.

According to the diocese, ashes can be imposed by anyone who is baptized. The diocese even provides an outline of how to set up your own ashes at home.

The guidelines state that ashes can be gathered in a small bowl at home from a fireplace, fire pit, burning of leaves, or burning of palms. Then, one person in the household should be responsible for giving the ashes. That person is encouraged to use a book of common prayer or follow along with a virtual service or posted bulletin to ensure the process is done correctly and the appropriate words are used.

For those interested in viewing a Catholic mass, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond will be holding a livestreamed Ash Wednesday Mass at 9 a.m. The mass will be presided by Bishop Barry Knestout.

However, if you still prefer an in-person Ash Wednesday mass, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke will still hold mass at noon — which will also be livestreamed on Facebook — and at 7 p.m.

Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lynchburg will also distribute ashes during the masses at noon and 6:15 p.m., with the later mass being livestreamed. You can also stop by the church office to receive the imposition of ashes between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, the South Roanoke United Methodist Church will be holding a virtual Ash Wednesday service on Wednesday. The service will premiere on the church’s Facebook page at noon, featuring scripture, prayer, and music.

First Baptist Church in Martinsville will be welcoming people to the Lenten season through a shared virtual service with Chatham Heights and Starling Avenue Baptist streamed on Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom.

Other churches in the Commonwealth are hosting drive-up services.

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