Rushed students receive ‘Ashes on the Go’

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You can get dinner to go, coffee to go, and now, even ashes to go.

Wednesday, a pair of Iowa City pastors took Ash Wednesday to the streets, offering to mark the foreheads of passing students and neighbors as part of the national movement known as "Ashes to Go."

Ashes to Go began in Chicago in 2010, when three Episcopal churches took ashes to train stations and commuters. Since then, the idea has spread to more than 32 states and several foreign countries, and Wednesday, it made its first appearance in Iowa City.

"It certainly is a way of increasing visibility, showing that God's out in the public square. That's what we want to say," said Pastor Duane Larson.

Pastor Duane Larson and Pastor Robert Dotzel stood on the sidewalk outside Gloria Dei Lutheran Church three different times Wednesday. Located just off the University of Iowa campus, it was the perfect spot to reach passersby.

"Students are busy. They may not take an hour off to go to a worship service, but if they can catch it on the go, I think they're interested to mark the day, the occasion," said Dotzel.

Roughly half the people who walked past the pastors stopped for ashes Wednesday afternoon, despite flurries and cold temperatures.

Among them was a university employee who said she hadn't been to a church in years.

"It's kind of one of those things where I might not have stopped if [Pastor Dotzel] hadn't said anything... but he did," said Riley Gardam. "It's a nice reminder for people who maybe aren't practicing actively their religion, and might just want to participate quickly on the way home."

Both Larson and Dotzel agreed that there is something about Ash Wednesday that seems to especially resonate with young people.

"I'm not sure what it is about the ashes. Maybe it's just the desire for something that's sort of a little more gritty in their faith, a little more down to earth, a reminder of our mortality," said Dotzel.

The pastors said they are likely to continue offering Ashes to Go next year, and they would even like to move to a location closer to campus.