'Ashes to go': Commuters offered drive-thru prayer to begin Lent

Wisniewski will set up his drive-thru prayer service outside his church on a busy inter-section to attract those who would not normally come to churchChurch of the Holy Spirit (Episcopal) | Facebook

Drive-thru prayer will be offered to commuters in New Jersey tomorrow as Rev Rich Wisniewski marks the beginning of Lent by providing an "Ashes to go" service.

For the third year in a row The Church of the Holy Spirit, an Episcopal church in Tuckerton, will offer drivers the ceremony without them needing to leave their cars.

Traditional Holy Communion and Imposition of Ashes, the formal Anglican ritual to mark the beginning of Lent, will take place as usual within the church. But Wisniewski will offer commuters the opportunity to participate for an hour at a time from 7am and again at midday.

Wisniewski will set up his drive-thru prayer service outside his church on a busy inter-section to attract those who would not normally come to church 

In previous years Wisniewski said he has given ashes to truck drivers, waitresses and many others who passed by and do not normally attend church.

"When I first came here, I asked God why he sent me here. I started realising, I think, I was sent here to realise that there are opportunities here," Wisniewski told Press of Atlantic City. "There are non-traditional ways of doing things. That's so important.

"Churches, in general, are at a crossroads," he continued. "Whether it's the pressures of having to work many more hours than people traditionally have, or if they are not comfortable during a traditional worship service, there are a lot of things going on.

"I'm challenging that church is a place you go to. Church is really about what people do and how they connect and how they live out what the church teaches us."

Wisniewski denied that the drive-thru service cheapened the experience of prayer.

"Unless you've experienced the look on someone's face after they've participated, you can't say it's cheapening the whole idea," he said. "It could be joy, it could be brought by some other emotion. But it's definitely a strong emotion."

The Episcopal reverend is not alone in offering drive-thru services. The Rev Don McMahon of Emmaus United Methodist Church in Smithville also started offering an on-street prayer service last summer.

Passers-by would approach and McMahon would offer prayer if they asked for it.

"When you make yourself available like that, people aren't worried about going into the church and someone imposing some kind of theology on them," he said. "If you're there because you care about them, you can meet their needs where they're at."

The service had to stop when the colder winter weather arrived. However McMahon said the church planned on building a semi-permanent structure so the service can be provided throughout the year.

"One gentleman had come through because he was coming from the hospital. His wife had surgery," he said. "We were responding to that need that he felt."