Fast and faithful: Churches offer drive-thru Ash Wednesday

An unidentified motorist receives ashes at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., on Wednesday, the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)
An unidentified motorist receives ashes at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., on Wednesday, the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)

Louisiana has drive-thru windows for daiquiris and beer — so why not for repentance too?

That’s right, a New Orleans-area Methodist church offered its faithful “drive-thru ashes” for Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lent holy season.

Munholland United Methodist Church invited its members and others to swing by Wednesday morning to receive ashes on their foreheads, participate in prayer or speak with a minister.

“Come to the parking lot on Metairie Road, stay in your car, and take part,” the church advertised on its website.

Ministers at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., offered “drive-thru ashes” on Wednesday, the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)
Ministers at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., offered “drive-thru ashes” on Wednesday, the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)

There was a line of cars when a photographer from local news station WVUE-TV stopped by early Wednesday. WVUE-TV photos showed a minister standing in a parking lot with a plate of ash, waiting for drivers in SUVs and sedans to wheel up to have crosses marked on their foreheads.

The church said the morning motor ministry “provides the opportunity to participate in that tradition for people who have no church home, do not have time to go to a traditional service or who are mobility challenged.”

The New Orleans church wasn’t alone. Fly-by flocks seem to be the trend this year: A Methodist and a Lutheran church in Long Beach, Miss., teamed up to offer “Ashes to Go,” as did an Episcopalian pastor near Atlantic City.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ritual of putting ashes upon the foreheads of Christians. It is also a day of fasting for Catholic and Anglican churches.

Catholic Online, a Catholic news and information site, writes that the passerby movement isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not proper Catholicism either.

“This isn’t considered taboo, but Catholics should know this practice is distinctly Protestant,” Catholic Online writes. “Catholics should still receive ashes within the context of Mass.”

A minister makes a cross on the forehead of an unidentified motorist at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., on Wednesday. The church offered “drive-thru ashes” on the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)
A minister makes a cross on the forehead of an unidentified motorist at Munholland United Methodist Church in Metairie, La., on Wednesday. The church offered “drive-thru ashes” on the first day of Lent. (WVUE-TV/Bernel Davis)

Tim Basselin, an assistant professor of media arts and worship at Dallas Theological Seminary, said the drive-thru Ash Wednesday events are just another sign of “the democratization of religion, of our culture in general.

“We all our used to having the power to set up our lives the way we want to,” Basselin told Yahoo News.

While churches are trying to respond to a society that is increasingly on the go, Basselin said individuals shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of religious rituals and the church.

“It’s a result of our ridiculous individualisms and we don’t know how to be communal,” he said. “We’ve lost the meaning of doing it in community with other people and what that means for us as a group.”

Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

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