MILLBURN, NJ — Continuing a tradition that began locally in 2012, Rev. Paula J. Toland of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Millburn was up bright and early this morning, marking ashes on commuters who chose to do so at the Millburn Train Station as they waited to catch their train into the city.
According to the press release from St. Stephen's, parishioners in their church and many others receive a blessing of ashes as a sign of penitence, grace and their relationship with God. The Ashes to Go program was held at the train station this year from 6:00 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.
This is Toland's second year with St. Stephen's, as she continues a tradition that began with the Episcopal church as a whole in 2010, but was picked up by St. Stephens in 2012. Toland's predecessor, Rector Sheelagh Clarke had also delivered ashes at the station as well.
"It has been a tradition in the Episcopal Church for probably 10, 12 years," Toland said. "The prior bishop, Bishop Mark Beckwith was really in favor of going out into the world and meeting people where they are. What better way to do that than at a train station on the morning of Ash Wednesday?"
"So you'll find Ashes to Go [at] train stations, street corners," Toland added. "I have a friend who darts into traffic up in Bloomfield [and] Glen Ridge. And we're here."
As for the why of the Ashes to Go program, Toland said that it is an acknowledgement that the hectic schedule some residents have does not always jibe with the schedule of services.
"We go to where people are, knowing that in the ways we live now, not everybody can get to church on a Wednesday during a workweek," Toland said. "And yet, there are people for whom remembering who and whose we are is very important."
One such commuter was Michael Brown. Waiting to catch his train into the city, Brown said that having the option to get his ashes right at the base of the train platform was incredibly convenient for him.
"It's pretty convenient, I think that's why I did it," Brown said. "Instead of taking off work to go to church for an hour, 45 minutes, I can just do it right here and kill two birds with one stone."
As for the blending of his spiritual and business lives together, Brown said that modern life is a bit hectic, and this is a good way to keep both the spiritual and secular in focus.
"I think it's just kind of how it is in 2020," Brown said. "You've got to try to blend it together and adapt to the times."
Along with the Ashes to Go program, St. Stephen's will also be hosting traditional Ash Wednesday services at noon and 7:30 p.m.