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Fox Chapel United Methodist pastors to hit Sharpsburg streets on Ash Wednesday

Tawnya Panizzi
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Jan Pakler | for Trib Total Media
Faith United Methodist Church Pastor Tom Parkinson gives the weekly sermon to members at their Sunday service.

Bringing a new twist to an old tradition, the Rev. Tom Parkinson will dole out blessings on Ash Wednesday to those who are too busy to slip away to church.

“God is present whether you are walking down the street, riding the bus or grabbing a sandwich at lunch,” said Parkinson, pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Fox Chapel.

He'll take to the streets of Sharpsburg on Feb. 18 — Ash Wednesday — as a visible reminder of God, marking foreheads with streaks of black dust.

“Ashes to Go” will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Specifically, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Parkinson will join with fellow Faith United Pastor Ben Phipps outside the Roots of Faith Ministry Center at 800 Main St. to distribute ashes.

At 6 p.m., he'll lead a prayer service inside.

During the day, the pair will pop in to local diners, stand at bus stops and walk along the business corridor.

During the day, Parkinson said the ministry center will be open to the public to share conversation and a hot coffee.

“Ash Wednesday is a long-standing tradition that mostly happens in the sanctuary or in a quiet, closed space,” Parkinson said.

“This is a way to connect with the community and invite all to join in.”

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Christian faith. It happens 40 days prior to Easter and is observed by receiving a blessing of ashes on the forehead, usually in the shape of a cross. The ashes are made from blessed palm branches.

Tom Bickerton, Bishop of the Pittsburgh area of the United Methodist Church, lauded the efforts and said the goal of the church is always to connect with the community.

“One of the things we emphasize with our pastors is that they are appointed to the community and they are to use the church as an outpost for ministry,” Bickerton said.

“It is natural for us to think that people ought to come to our churches but it is up to us to take what is a high liturgical event and apply it wherever we can.”

Inclusiveness is the goal, whether that's achieved on the street or in a sanctuary, he said.

“God smiles upon any faithful effort to connect the people to the church,” Bickerton said.

Parishioner Julie Yost likes the idea of taking religion out from behind the walls of a church, going from the Sunday pews to the coffee shop or the busy street corner.

“These pastors have such a strong conviction and belief in outreach. Their enthusiasm is contagious,” she said.

Yost believes that the simple idea of being present and among people will inspire others to continue coming to God.

Parkinson said standing on a crowded street and walking among strangers is a perfect platform for his message that God is not contained behind the altar.

“Here we'll be, on Main Street where people are going about their routine and they'll be reminded that God is present in the midst of our everyday ordinary lives,” he said.

“And that God's grace is available to all.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at [email protected].

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