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On Ash Wednesday, Vancouver pastor meets penitent at roadside

The Rev. Tom Warne doesn’t tire of walking out to Southeast Ellsworth Road in Vancouver every Ash Wednesday to offer passersby ashes to go.

“It’s pretty simple but pretty profound I’ve found,” said Warne, the rector and senior pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd.

Some people drive to the Episcopal church, get the sign of the cross smudged on their forehead and continue on their way. Others may be walking by with their dog and wondering, “What’s up with this sign-waving pastor?” That usually prompts a brief discussion about Lent, a solemn penitential period before Easter that’s kicked off with Ash Wednesday. The day prior, Shrove Tuesday, is also celebrated by some Christians and usually marked by eating pancakes or other rich, fatty foods that will be given up during Lent.

Some ashes-to-go onlookers pray with Warne, whether they’re Episcopalian or not.

“Life’s tough right now for a lot of people,” he said, adding people need human interaction and to know someone cares about them.

Warne likes bringing the church outside its four walls and into the community. His congregation will soon experience firsthand what it’s like to separate the church from its building; Good Shepherd is undergoing nine months of remodeling and maintenance work.

“We’re going on a church camping trip, which means you have to travel light and be ready for adventure,” Warne said.

After Easter, the congregation will gather Sundays in Ellsworth Elementary School’s gymnasium possibly through January 2021.


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