Two churches in Sunderland will be working together to offer people a mark on their forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday for the first time.
Ash Wednesday, which falls on the February 10, will see St Mary’s Catholic Church and Sunderland Minster offering Ashes to Go – a new approach to a centuries-old Christian tradition.
This is part of an international movement that has clergy and lay people visiting bus stops, street corners, coffee shops and train stations to mark the foreheads of interested passers-by with ashes and invite them to turn away from the past and seek God’s forgiveness and renewal.
Fraser Marc Lyden-Smith, the parish priest of St Mary’s, said: “This will be a tremendous witness in our city, with Catholics and Anglicans working together to start the season of Lent, and it will hopefully remind those who have perhaps fallen away from the Church, or never been before, that the Christian faith is alive and active in Sunderland.”
In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the holy season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the face at the beginning of that season with an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness.
Canon Sheila Bamber of Sunderland Minster said: “Ashes to Go is about bringing the important traditions of our faith out from behind church doors and into the community.
“As people get busier and busier, we need the church to be working in new and non-traditional ways.
“We especially need reminders of forgiveness in the tough places of our lives.
“The people who accept ashes on the street are often people longing to make a connection between their faith and the pressures of daily life, and Ashes to Go helps them feel that connection.
“This is the first time we have taken part in Ashes to Go here in Sunderland and we are delighted that Bishop Paul and Bishop Seamus are joining us.”
Ashes to Go provides the opportunity to participate in that tradition for people who have lost their connection to a church or have never participated before.
It will take place around Sunderland city centre, beginning with a 10am service in the Minster. After this event, two bishops and church leaders in Sunderland, will take to the streets of Sunderland city centre and the Bridges Shopping Centre.
A 12.05pm Mass will then be held at St Mary’s Church.
The churches will be joined by the Bishop of Durham, The Right Reverend Paul Butler and The Catholic Bishop of Newcastle and Hexham, The Right Reverend Bishop Seamus Cunningham.