By Stuart Mann
As she hurried to catch the subway train, the woman stopped and received a blessing from the Rev. Canon Mark Kinghan. “I’m going to go to my office now and find the people I can share joy with, because my day is going to be wonderful because of this,” she said.
The woman was one of about 100 commuters who stopped for the imposition of ashes or a blessing at the Finch subway station in Toronto on March 5.
Canon Kinghan of St. George on Yonge, the Rev. Carol Friesen of St. Christopher, Richmond Hill, and the Rev. Susan Haig of St. Theodore of Canterbury were in the station from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. They were one of at least four teams of clergy and laity offering ashes in subways, bus stations and on street corners in the diocese on Ash Wednesday.
“It was phenomenal,” said Canon Kinghan. “It was really well received. You could tell it meant something to people. There was surprise that we were there and delight that they could enter into that ritual act. There was a real sacredness about it, a real holiness at that moment.”
The group got the idea after listening to Bishop Jane Alexander’s speech to Synod, in which she described offering ashes to commuters in Edmonton, said Canon Kinghan. For many churches in the U.S., it has become an annual event called Ashes to Go (www.ashestogo.org.)
The Rev. Carol Friesen said she was deeply moved by people who came up to her to receive ashes. “It was just awesome, how people were so surprised to see God at the subway,” she said.
The Rev. Susan Haig felt similarly moved by the experience. “I felt both during and afterwards that I was being fed with some pretty amazing bread that would sustain me through my Lenten journey,” she said. “This manna was simply encountering Christ in the many people, from many different Christian churches, who stopped and asked us to impose ashes. They were profound and sacred, albeit brief, encounters loaded with delicious and heavenly sustenance.”
The Rev. Canon David Harrison and four parishioners from St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, anointed about 25 people with ashes at the corner of College Street and Euclid Avenue. “We had many intriguing conversations and many connections were made,” he said. “We experienced not one bit of aggression or push-back.” They imposed ashes on another 12 people in front of the church. “It was well worth doing – and doing again,” he said.