PORTLAND, Maine — On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Episcopal priest Larry Weeks stood in Portland’s Monument Square in the biting cold and light snow. He offered ashes and blessings to people shuffling by in scarves, boots and mittens.
Making the sign of the cross on their foreheads in a smudge of ash, he marked the first day of the traditional 40-day period of Christian self-reflection.
Lent ends with the celebration of Easter, which this year is April 20.
“The season of Lent is when you can look inside yourself and see if there’s things you’ve been doing that you don’t want to do anymore, people you’ve hurt that you don’t want to hurt and just changes you’d like to make in your life,” said Weeks.
This is the third year the Episcopal Diocese of Maine has offered ashes outside the church on Ash Wednesday. In addition to Monument Square, the church offered ashes at a post office in Windham, in downtown Winthrop, at a dry cleaners in Falmouth, and five different locations throughout the day in Brunswick.
Weeks said the main reason for bringing the ceremony to the streets is convenience.
“Not everyone is able to be in their church today,” he said. “It’s also a way of bringing the church’s presence outside a building and being in the public.”
Weeks pulled on a winter hat between blessings and sported a warm jacket over his vestments. A nearby thermometer read 17 degrees, but a constant breeze made it feel much chillier.
“I’m cold, but it’s a good cold,” he said.