WOOD RIVER — The Rev. Kim Allen wants her church to reach out more. And to do so she is was even willing to give drive-up ashes Wednesday.
Allen, who has been Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Wood River for two and a half years, celebrated Ash Wednesday this week, which begins the Lenten season, by praying with about 30 people and giving ashes to some on either their foreheads or hands.
United Methodists along with other denominations celebrate the time generally marked by a time of fasting and prayer.
When she came out of the door with ashes in her hand during a recent Ash Wednesday she was not expecting the comment she would receive when a man from a nearby business drove up in a vehicle.
And he called it “drive-by ashes.”
“And I said, ‘oh, OK’,” Allen said. “And he said, ‘oh no really, “drive-by ashes.’”
Allen cited the book of Matthew of the Bible in chapter 5, verses 14 through 16 where Jesus talks about being a light in the world. Christians can’t hide in a bowl, she said.
She talked with others about the idea, as it would give the church more of a presence in the community.
“So here we are,” Allen said. “We’re outside.”
Response to the ashes and prayer have been positive, she said. Passers-by waved and honked.
“But it all stems from being out more into our community,” Allen said.
Allen said the act of driving up and receiving ashes while in the vehicle does not cheapen the act. When she brought out the idea — which was approved by her church’s council — she wanted to emphasize it was not a gimmick.
If anything, she said, it brings the act closer to the people.
“I think it brings it to them in a real way,” Allen said. “It allows it to come into their life in a real way that makes it more than just ritual. It’s more than just ritual. It doesn’t have to be in a church.”
She said when Jesus walked and did ministry he was out in the open among people. And she said she thinks this brings the act back to where it is supposed to be.
“Bringing these things back out into peoples’ real lives; the blessings back out into peoples’ everyday lives brings the ministry back out into peoples’ lives,” she said. “And it doesn’t hide it behind religious organizational connotations or circumstances.”
Betty Sauls, who received a prayer and ashes from Allen, said receiving the ashes brought her closer to God. Though Sauls married a Pentecostal, she has been Methodist her whole life and has visited the church.
Sauls said she has a bad back and bad lungs. She said she needs a real “touch” from God and believes in the power of physical healing. Overcome with emotion, she said Allen’s prayer was like a touch from heaven.
“‘Cause she is so real,” she said, then pausing. “And I think this is great that they stand outside and they don’t even expect you to come in; how gracious of them.”
Kirk Bengston is a FedEx driver from St. Charles, Mo. and his supervisor, who is Catholic, got him interested in the significance of the ashes.
He said he loves the dynamic of drive-up ashes. He said the way Allen’s church does the service helped him on a practical level.
“Well I loved it because with all these stops today there was no way I was going to be able to make it to a church,” Bengston said. “So it was either stop in the church during one of their services or when I saw this, you know, and to have people stand out here and care enough to help people like that says a lot.”
To submit an idea for a church or other religious news story contact reporter Brett Luster at 618-463-2570 or on Twitter @bdluster.