Denver churches forced to adjust Ash Wednesday traditions

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — Sundays aren’t what they used to be for Denver churches, as worshipers are unable to gather together for weekly fellowship.

Forced to go virtual, ministers and priests have had to made quick adjustments to keep congregations feel connected over the past year. Changing what’s “always been” to what they hope is just a “temporary now” is becoming less difficult.

Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver hasn’t invited its members inside its sanctuary since March 15, 2020. When beginning to plan Ash Wednesday this year, they knew they couldn’t make an exception.

“Some of our colleagues were very against to doing anything in person,” said Ann Hultquist, senior pastor at the church.

But the church pivoted and created a station outdoors, where members of its congregation and the general public could either drive through or walk up to one of their ministers and be given ashes.

“We have never done the drive-thru before this year, so this is a whole new thing for us,” said Hultquist. “In one way, it seems like just one more thing during this unusual year.”

Even with safety modifications, churches reported a significant decrease in the number of people given ashes this year. Augustana on a normal year would give around 250 people ashes during its traditional ceremony. On Wednesday, they saw around 50.

Christ the King Roman Catholic Church also saw less than half its normal congregation size on the holiday.

“We have seen much less people coming to church these days,” said Father Grzegorz Cioch.

Christ of King continued to hold indoor mass throughout the pandemic but keeps people socially distanced and reduced the number of people allowed on each pew. To accommodate for Ash Wednesday, the church held mass seven times as compared to previous years, when they only had two.

“We were able to do it throughout the year and we can do it on this special day,” said Cioch. “We have windows we can open, and we ventilate the space. We also disinfect after each service.”

Churches like Augustana that decided to break away from its normal this year, found a silver lining in the change of tradition.

“It feels less formal for sure, but I think one of the things about faith is that we can see how it moves in our regular, everyday lives,” said Hultquist. “For Ash Wednesday, people driving up or walking up to get ashes just reminds us that God is in the everyday.”

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