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February 12. 2013 8:23PM

For Ash Wednesday, Newport reverend bringing ashes to the faithful

NEWPORT - Have ashes, will travel.

Episcopal Church of the Epiphany's Rev. Alice Roberts is distributing ashes in the community for Ash Wednesday.

"I'll probably have a sign that says 'ashes to go,'" Roberts said Tuesday. "I'm doing it in the name of my church. I decided I liked the idea of trying to get out of the sanctuary and offer ashes all day in the community."

Roberts is starting her day with a few meetings in the morning and plans to bring ashes with her in case anyone she encounters would like to receive them. Then she is attending the Newport Rotary Club meeting at the Sugar River Savings Bank on Main Street from noon to 1 p.m., where she will offer ashes. After which she plans to cross the street and stand outside of the United Methodist Church on Park Street, right next to the post office and across from the town common to distribute ashes from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. , she said.

"I want to take the elements of our church out in the community and offer them to everybody because that's really what Jesus did," Roberts said. "Jesus went out to be where people needed to be touched by his presence."

Roberts plans to distribute pamphlets about Ash Wednesday and will also offer prayers and the laying of hands on community members who request it. The ashes are created by burning the palms used at last year's Palm Sunday service, she said. "We put them on people's foreheads either with a cross or a smudge and we say the words, 'remember you are dust and to dust you will return.' It's an invitation to be more frugal during this time and to do some self-evaluation. Where are we and where we are going? It starts people looking at themselves with a sense of humility as they prepare for Easter."

Roberts has never done this before and is not sure what the public's reaction is going to be, but so far people she has told are supportive and think it's a nice gesture.

"I'm extremely curious. I don't mind making a fool of myself if everybody runs away," Roberts said. "It's an experiment."

Roberts has been a pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany for two years. Before that she spent many years as a prison chaplain at the state's women's prison, she said.

This Ash Wednesday community outreach is typical of her ministry, she said.

"I have a long history of going to where the needs are," she said

Her church, located at 2 Cedar St., has a 6:30 p.m. Ash Wednesday service planned.


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