Ashes for use on Ash Wednesday are traditionally made by burning palm crosses provided on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Photo: Ian Black/Shutterstock

From take-out hot dogs and baked potatoes to virtual pancake parties, Southland clergy say 2021’s Lenten beginnings will look a whole lot different in the age of pandemic, but there will be ashes; drive-through, mailed out and even do-it-yourself.

On Shrove Tuesday, members of Grace Church in Glendora will forego the customary pancakes, sausage and all the trimmings, the traditional “Fat Tuesday” fare, symbolizing consumption of rich foods in preparation for a season of penitence and fasting.

“It’s going to be hot dogs, pretzels, water and a doughnut,” the Rev. Susan Scranton, rector, told The Episcopal News recently.

Per tradition, the take-out menu “uses fats. And pretzels are a traditional Lenten symbol anyway — they’ve got flour, salt and water — no leavening. The doughnut is essentially a jelly doughnut. That serves our purpose. And the hot dogs are not going to get cold like a pancake will.”

Accompanying the takeout meal will be resource bags, filled with daily meditations, Sunday School and youth group activities, even Mardi Gras beads and mite boxes, she said.

“We do a mite box, as old-fashioned as they are,” said Scranton. “We hope people put cash inside that’s paper, instead of coins.” The funds collected are spent on outreach ministries, including supporting local food banks.

In Long Beach, Lenten giveaways — a packet of ashes, a communion wafer, votive candle, devotional booklets and Mardi gras beads, tied up in a square of unbleached muslin — may be picked up by parishioners of both St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Gregory’s, who are teaming together.

“We’ve been trying to bolster a feeling of community,” said the Rev. Sharon Sheffield, St. Thomas’ rector. Members will visit St. Thomas to pick up a baked potato dinner with toppings and sausage. For dessert, they will head to St. Gregory’s, just a few miles away, for cookies or cupcakes, said the Rev. Michael Fincher, rector.

Lent Madness, a lighthearted program provided by Forward Movement, is a favorite way to mark the season – and is ideal in this season of social distancing. Learn more at

“We’ve been trying to do a lot together,” Sheffield said. “Last year, before the pandemic hit, we had been talking about doing joint Holy Week services, but we couldn’t do any of that. This is a carrying forward of what we can do together as communities.”

Fincher agreed. “Normally, we do a pancake supper, but this just seemed to make more sense, especially since it’s a joint effort.”

The unbleached muslin may be used as a do-it-yourself home altar cloth, Sheffield said. Also included in the giveaway packet: a Lent Madness 2021 scorecard. Lent Madness was created by the Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, in 2010 as a fun way to inspire Christians to more deeply participate in the season. Its structure is loosely based on March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament.

Given the current status of Covid-19 cases throughout Southern California, Bishop Diocesan John Harvey Taylor has directed that clergy refrain from imposing ashes this year. Southland Episcopalians can opt for self-imposition and creating their own ashes or even ash substitutes.

The Rev. Arthur Toro, vicar of the Church of the Holy Communion in Gardena, said he is mailing ashes to church members and, during an online service, will invite households to impose them upon each other or upon themselves.

And in Pomona, the Rev. Canon Mark Hallahan, rector of St. Paul’s Church, said he is considering having members create their own ashes, blessing them during virtual worship service and then inviting them to self-impose.

In Rancho Santa Margarita, members of St. John’s Chrysostom will join a virtual pancake supper after an advance pickup of giveaways. Their Lenten bags will include Mardi Gras beads plus small, lidded containers of ashes with instructions for self-imposition, according to St. John’s associate vicar, the Rev. Karen Maurer.

“We’ve got instructional times for the Zoom services on Ash Wednesday and we’re still trying to figure out if it will be a traditional service or just an invitation at the appropriate time to impose ashes on each other or themselves,” she said.

“It’s so weird,” Maurer added. “We’re trying to keep some traditions alive and keep some normalcy. Ash Wednesday is particularly poignant this year, with all the deaths and illness and other things.”

Shrove Tuesday falls on a biweekly bible study evening, shared with some diocesan Spanish-speaking ministries and since “a lot of Latino churches don’t have a tradition of pancakes or celebration, there will be a Zoom bilingual party and we’ll encourage everyone to make pancakes beforehand,” according to the Rev. Melissa Campbell-Langdell, rector of All Santos, Oxnard.

“We’ll share recipes, fun Scripture, music and different cultural traditions to do with Mardi Gras, Carnival, and what are their favorite traditions from different cultures. The idea is to make it fun.”

Church members will receive ashes by mail or be invited to create them at home, “whether they can safely prepare them from burning the palm crosses they have, or if they want to use garden soil,” she added. “Or you can even use glitter. We are encouraging people to get creative.”

A traditional Lenten season caravan among local AME, Methodist, Adventist, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches will move online and will focus “on rest for the journey because everybody’s tired out from the pandemic.

“We start on Ash Wednesday,” she said. “I always grab that date because for us, it’s a special day and, for some of the other churches that don’t have a tradition of doing Lent, it’s an opportunity to teach about it.”

During the caravan season, “People will talk about which church they’re from and we cheer on each church. We share music and preaching.” On Ash Wednesday she will include a reflective moment for imposition of ashes together.

Similarly, in Santa Maria, the Rev. Peter Kang, said St. Peter’s hopes to add a little levity to a tough season, including a Shrove Tuesday “game show trivia night on Zoom. I found a website where you can make your own trivia questions.”

Participants will be quizzed on the bible and the church’s history, including a query about the number of squirrels that show up in St. Peter’s stained-glass windows. “It’s an odd detail, but I’ve noticed it while sitting in the church,” said Kang, rector. “And in between the questions, we will have musical performances in a talent show put on by church members.”

This playful “guide” to imposing ashes has been popular on the Internet before Ash Wednesday in recent years.

He added: “It’s a way to be together when we can and have some fun for Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. We’re sad about not being able to do ashes-to-go. We had a pretty big turnout last year from people in the community, but we just are not able to do it this year.”

Instead, “we’re going to mail little cards with the design of the cross with ashes on the paper and the paper will say, ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you will return’. We will mail it to church members with Lenten devotions they can say at home.”

All Saints, Pasadena parishioners will create ashes “out of the things in our lives we want to release or transform,” according to the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, associate rector.

“We will take everyone’s offerings and burn them in a transforming fire on Shrove Tuesday — our ashes will be the remains of all we wish to release or transform — and we will wear them together,” she said.

“Like everything else in the time of COVID, we knew Ash Wednesday was going to have to look different. Perhaps like no other year in most of our lives, our mortality has been ever before us.”

The Rev. Michael Kinman, All Saints rector, came up with the idea “to reframe the imposition of ashes ritual as a “both/and” for Lent 2021 — reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return and using it as an opportunity to intentionally name what changes and transformations we want to embody into our Lenten journey and beyond; what ‘metanoia’ we seek,” Russell said.

“And then … because of the COVID restrictions in place … we’ll have a drive-by opportunity for folks to pick up ashes (along with some Mardi Gras treats!) on Shrove Tuesday and participate in one of our three online services during Ash Wednesday,” she said.

“Doing this planning has also reminded us that the list of things priests have been ordained to do includes ‘bless, consecrate and absolve’ — it does not include ‘impose.’ So, having family members impose the ashes, or imposing them on ourselves if we live alone is a reminder that the laity is the primary order of ministry and even when we can’t physically gather together we are still church together.”