Drive-thru blessings: Vancouver church meets worshippers in parking lot for Ash Wednesday

The Canadian Memorial United Church is doing "drive-thru" blessings in its parking lot for Ash Wednesday. Canadian Memorial United Church

Today marks Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for Christians, and a day when many worshippers go to church to receive blessings from ministers.

And one Vancouver church is trying to help people make time in their busy working day for it — by doing drive-thru blessings.

Canadian Memorial United Church Minister Beth Hayward said that while other churches have done doorstep blessings before, she thinks hers is the first in Vancouver to do drive-thrus.

“I haven’t heard of anyone doing the drive-thru before, and certainly a few people have poked a bit of fun at us thinking we’re making light of a really serious ritual,” Hayward said.

“But what’s interesting is most people have been sort of caught off guard by just what a deeply meaningful experience it is to receive a one-on-one blessing.”

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Hayward said although people might think the church is making light of the tradition, it’s actually trying to help people who want to be blessed — even if they only have a few minutes before work.

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“Everything we do in this church aims to meet people where they’re at and to make our tradition and our rituals available to people in a way that makes sense in their lives. So what I’ve found today is even in spending 1-5 minutes with someone, it definitely is leaving them with something to take away,” Hayward said.

“Just a peace, if you will, an open-heartedness [sic], just a feeling that they’ve received a bit of a gift today. So it really does seem to be meeting a need, which to me makes it worthwhile.”

And Hayward thinks it’s having an impact on the number of people who are getting involved. By midday, she said she had blessed almost the same number of people as would normally attend the nighttime service.

Hayward started the blessings around 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, and planned to continue until evening, when the church is holding a more traditional worship service indoors. In all, she’ll be blessing people for 12 hours.

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WATCH: Irish church offers Ash Wednesday parishioners drive-thru penance (2017)

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Irish church offers Ash Wednesday parishioners drive-thru penance

Hayward said the purpose of Ash Wednesday, when worshippers are blessed with an ash cross marking on their foreheads, is to remind people of their mortality and encourage them to lead the best lives they can.

“Churches across the world will mark people on the forehead with a cross that’s made from ashes. It’s intended to bring us in touch with the idea that we’re mortal, life is short,” she said. “It’s wise to take intentional time in your life journey to reflect on, ‘Is this the best life I can lead? Are there things I need to give up or take on so that I can become my best self?'”

Hayward said anyone who wishes to be blessed is welcome to visit the Canadian Memorial United Church, where they can be met in the parking lot or go indoors.


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