Word of the Week

Ash Wednesday Gone Bad

Back by popular demand is a blog post that I wrote in February of 2007 about an experience during my first year as a full-time associate pastor. Please laugh along with me (though it wasn’t funny at the time). By means of background, Ash Wednesday fell on my birthday this year and the senior pastor of our congregation was in Hawaii celebrating his birthday (the same day as mine). So of course I wasn't bitter or anything . . 

It was 6:10 p.m. before the Ash Wednesday service began at 6:30. I was on the phone with my husband, Kevin racing back to the church for the service. In the course of our conversation, I remembered I had forgotten the most important thing. The ASHES.

Hearing the panic in my voice, Kevin offered a suggestion. He reminded me that it wouldn’t take very long to burn some more ashes. "Go outside with a metal trash can and burn some paper in it for a few minutes. I bet you can get it done before anyone gets there . . ."

While I saw the logic in this activity, Kevin’s idea sounded a little risky to me. Did I have time to find a metal trash can? And who really listens to their husband?

Instead, I thought I had a brilliant idea, better than his. Our fellowship hall had a fireplace in it. I decided I’d just burn some paper in there. No big deal, right? That's what fireplaces are for, right?

Wrong, because I forgot to open up the flue. Yes, the very important flue.

So before I knew it, smoke began to fill the fellowship hall. It was just my luck (sigh) that the smoke sensor was right beside the fireplace– so the church fire alarm began to immediately sound. That awful loud noise began to fill the walls of the church along with the smoke. And more smoke.

I quickly began to pour water on the paper burning I had begun (not thinking that I was totally defeating the point of exercises as I was soon to have soggy ashes). I thought if I could get the smoke to leave the fellowship hall, then all would be well and the fire alarm would go off.

But in a few minutes, the fire alarm did indeed go off!  Lonnie, my pastoral colleague meanwhile called the security company and told them all was well. The pastor was just burning something for a service. But, the VERY loud noise kept going! And going. And going.

The first person I saw was one of our most faithful deacons, Tom (God rest his soul!). He was out of breath. I could tell that he'd been sprinting throughout the church like a crazy person. With panic in my voice, I admitted that I was the one who had started the fire. Yet, everything was ok; the fire was out. I was glad Tom didn't yell at me. Together we got water in bowls from the kitchen and kept pouring them over the smoked filled fireplace.

And by the time that I cleaned everything up and make my way upstairs, I found that the fire department had already made its way to our church. Yes, the local fire department!

Thank goodness Lonnie was there to deal with them and the crowd of early attendees standing outside wondering what was going on. I was so embarrassed! And I locked myself my office. (Yes, not a shining moment but the true story!)

Blessed Kevin, though talked me off the Ash Wednesday smoke filled church ledge and I found my way to the service.

I began the night talking about the symbols of Lent, including the wet ashes. I told everyone the story of what had occurred earlier that evening (for the late comers who hadn't heard the noise) and a roar of laughter came from those present (If you don’t cry, you laugh, right?).

The Joel 2 lectionary passage for the day had a whole new meeting for our group that evening: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.”

For our alarm really did sound!

Kevin did treat me to a nice dinner afterwards. It was the best part of 2007's Ash Wednesday birthday.

I never have tried to burn my own ashes again, nor will I. And you all should say amen.