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COVID-19 changes some Ash Wednesday traditions at Detroit area churches

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Some communities in Metro Detroit chose to continue Lent despite the risks of COVID-19 while others adjusted their practices.

In downtown Detroit, St. Aloysius Catholic Church held some Ash Wednesday rituals by holding a personal mass, but throwing ashes on the heads of parishioners instead of putting the traditional cross on his forehead with fingers and ashes to Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron .

About 22 miles away, the Birmingham First United Methodist Church on Maple Road has adapted its tradition by holding online services but offering drive-through stations outside the church where parishioners could pick up fasting goody bags that have a temporary tattoo on one Cross included to replace the cross with ashes on the forehead.

“How wonderful it is that even in the midst of the pandemic we can gather here at St. Aloysius for this sacred rite of dedication of Lent,” said Archbishop of Detroit, Allen H. Vigneron.

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When Vigneron finished his sermon on Wednesday, he blessed the ashes, which is a symbol of penance and is made from palm leaves used in last year’s Palm Sunday liturgy.

Parishioners bowed their heads for about seven minutes as Vigneron scattered ashes over his head. A practice that, according to the Archdiocese of Detroit, is still common in some parts of the world.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a liturgical time of prayer, penance and sacrifice in preparation for Easter.

“Of course this year … we’ll do it a little differently,” said Vigneron during the fair. “Instead of speaking to each of you while I distribute it, I will say the words of admonition once and then instead of signing you with the cross, I will scatter the ashes, but it is really all the same.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit said in a press release that the Vatican Congregation for Worship has recommended the practice of scattering ashes to dioceses around the world to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

During the same mass, parishioners lined the aisle and received the sacramental bread for Holy Communion. The Archdiocese of Detroit also offered live streams of the fair.

Holy Communion was distributed in small bags at the Birmingham First United Methodist Church to Church members attending the drive-through service.

Church member, Susan Rieth, gives Sharon and Bob Pierce their soup and bread as part of the

“We have a very strong commitment to safe COVID practices, yet we try to build relationships with ours People. So our team has been very creative trying to figure out how we can both do things, “said Rev. Susie Hierholzer.

The drive-through stations contained items for families, youth, and adults, one of which was for ashes and communion. The ashes were prepackaged in small containers and members were given the option of taking the container home and applying the ashes themselves, having the pastor sprinkle the ashes on the back of their hands, or temporarily tattooing a cross.

Hierholzer said the roughly 16,000 tattoo crosses were ordered in bulk and are being used by many Methodist churches across Michigan to take safety precautions while maintaining ritual meaning. A parishioner asked Hierholzer to bless the ashes and apply them to her forehead.

“This is a great church. We just miss seeing everyone. We need to get back to normal where we can do the things we love,” said church member Louann Darlinghouse, who received ashes on her hand.

Another Ash Wednesday tradition that changed was the Church’s “Empty Bowls, Empty Chairs” fundraiser, typically held with about 400 members sharing a soup dinner. Instead, members could pre-order soup evenings and collect them during the drive-through event.

Murphy, Sue Smith's dog, keeps an eye on himself as a volunteer and Church member Doug Emig Smith made their soup and bread as part of the

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Dusty Kennedy