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Rochester churches offer prayers-to-go, ashes-to-go

Ashes to go, the Rev. Doug Sparks
In this Feb. 13, 2013, photo, the Rev. Doug Sparks of St. Luke's Episcopal Church offers blessings to a woman on Second Street in Rochester.

When Ron Scheid's car rolled over in western South Dakota last summer, he knew he needed help.

Within minutes, it arrived.

"A lady crawled in the window from the ambulance crew to hold me," Schied told Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/17p5htd ). "She says, 'I didn't want you to die alone.' That really hit me."

Mindful that someone should be concerned for a weary traveler, Schied and other members of Bethel Lutheran Church offer prayers to go in the church parking lot.

Every Wednesday, pastors and volunteers of the church near downtown Rochester set up a table, fill coffee pots and wait for people to roll down their window and ask for a prayer to go.


Pastor Anjanette Bandel began offering the prayers four years ago after serving a Nebraska congregation that started a similar ministry. They have popped up across the nation in recent years, allowing ministers to reach people where it is convenient for them, she said.

Hardly any of the people who stop are members of the congregation. Some are struggling with marriages, financial problems, or health concerns. But often, they seek prayers to help in daily life, or simply want to be reminded that they are not alone.

A few miles away, St. Luke's Episcopal Church reaches out to people short on time on one particular day — Ash Wednesday. Along with several colleagues, the Rev. Doug Sparks started what he believes is Minnesota's only ashes-to-go program.

According to the program's website, volunteers have distributed ashes at sites in a dozen states and Nova Scotia since 2010. Sparks plans to take the practice to the streets of downtown Rochester again soon.

"Here's another opportunity that's different from the way we've done things in the past," he said. "Maybe this will be useful and maybe this is an opportunity to sort of encounter people on their turf rather than assuming that church is when people come to a building."

Sparks has a simple approach: He asks people walking by if they'd like to have ashes and pray. If they respond, he approaches them. If not, he gives them a smile. He said he and his colleagues have given ashes to about 150 people since 2013.

At Bethel Lutheran, Bandel said delivering prayers while on the move fits the times.

For those in the midst of a busy life, she said, pausing for prayer might only cross their mind.


"Maybe we're enacting that moment for people," she said. "But I do think it has to do a little bit with the convenience aspect that makes this an interesting outreach."

Schied, a church volunteer, hopes a quick prayer and a hand to hold will give them hope and support — in a way that's convenient. Sometimes, drivers emerge from their cars to hold hands with church members, he said.

"I've seen it hit like a dozen where we'll have three cars in here at one time," Schied said. "So the pastor is talking and praying with one, and we're over getting coffee and conversing with the other. And we're like 'OK, pastor. This one's next.'"

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