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‘Ashes to go’ greet Metra commuters in Oak Lawn

The Rev. Peggy McClanahan from Pilgrim Faith United Church Christ Oak Lawn provides ashes go for commuters MetrStatiOak Lawn Illinois

The Rev. Peggy McClanahan, from Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ of Oak Lawn, provides ashes to go for commuters at the Metra Station in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Wednesday, February 13, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:22PM



The Rev. Peggy McClanahan believes a church should be where its people are. And early in the morning, most are on their way to work.

So on a chilly Ash Wednesday, McClanahan, pastor of Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn, offered “ashes to go” at the Oak Lawn Metra train station.

With the thumbs cut off her gloves, McClanahan figured she administered the symbolic ashes to about 50 people during the morning rush’s busiest time — 6:20 to 8:15 a.m. — ducking inside the station between trains to warm up.

Even a conductor got off the train to receive ashes, she said.

People were surprised, she admitted, but then their surprise turned to joy.

“They were so overjoyed that they could get ashes on their way to work,” McClanahan said. “That was very moving for me.”

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Lenten season for Christians, who prepare for Easter by fasting or “giving up” something they like, such as a favorite food, during the period.

McClanahan had heard of other churches doing similar events and thought, “What a cool way to take the church to the people.”

She began planning for it last year, made sure she had the blessing of the village and was assisted by two members of her church.

It was not the first time she took this ministry to the train station, but dispensing of ashes is not part of the Ash Wednesday tradition in her United Church of Christ.

Services vary from congregation to congregation. At her service Wednesday night, she planned to have people write confessions on a paper, then burn them.

The pastor said she may change her mind after the train station experience.

“This was really stepping out for us,” she said.

The Oak Lawn area is predominantly Catholic or Lutheran, and she saw this as a way to “connect” with them.

A few receiving ashes were non-commuters who came to the train station when they heard about it on the radio.

It didn’t matter what their religious background was, she said.

“People want a spiritual connection, but they do not feel comfortable going to a church,” McClanahan said.

“We will absolutely do this again,” she said. “We’re pumped.”



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