“Are you giving that out? For free? Right now?” asked a woman called Linda on the northeast corner of Market and 19th. Reverend Ethan Jewett, and two lay members from St. Clement’s (Episcopalian) Church in Logan Square, were indeed smearing little ashen crosses on foreheads in Center City today, for Ash Wednesday. St. Peter’s, also Episcopalian, on 3rd and Pine, was doing the same outside the Market East SEPTA station, as it did last year.
When I first encountered the trio, at 9:30 a.m., they had performed the rite on 256 people. By the time they headed back to St. Clement’s for a breather five minutes later, their little metal counter had ticked up to 268. They will be back outside the Starbucks on Chestnut and 19th again from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Don’t count on too many other churches doing the same, however. “The Roman Catholic Churches are ordered not to do this,” Jewett said. “So a lot of Roman Catholics come to us for ashes.” Jewett said he started the practice last year in Philadelphia, though it started in St. Louis and is currently occurring nationwide.