In front of Cougar’s Burger joint at the corner of El Segundo Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue, two pastors and three members of Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Hawthorne, Calif., stood to offer prayers and ashes for people who walked by.
“It was an amazing adventure for Ash Wednesday,” says Larry Becker, senior pastor of Trinity.
This was the first time that congregation members ventured out of church doors to mark the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. Trinity’s new outreach pastor, Anna-Kari Johnson, led the way.
Word about what was happening quickly spread.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by,” says Larry.
Police officers, students from the local high school and the mayor of nearby Compton, who heard what was happening from his colleagues at city hall, stopped by for prayer and ashes.
“We hung out with Jesus, who stands at that street corner every day,” says Anna-Kari, who came up with the idea.
“We received so many positive comments from people, who were surprised by what we were doing,” she says. “There are so many good people in the world. You don’t have to be afraid of strangers. In our vulnerability, we went out there to encourage people.”
Larry admits that the idea of offering prayer and ashes directly to the community had never occurred to him.
“I’m more of an administrative pastor who preaches and teaches. I tend to get locked in the box of the sanctuary, and I want to be pulled out,” he says. “Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we are now going to them.”
Anna-Kari is helping the members of Trinity to embrace that vision, encouraging members “to be willing to let God use (them).”
In addition to offering prayers and ashes, members of Trinity handed out materials in English and Spanish about the congregation’s various ministries and elementary school as part of their evangelism and outreach practices.
They also handed out nearly 600 postcards, which featured a picture of Jesus carrying the cross. The backside provided information about Trinity’s Easter worship schedule with the words, “Let Jesus give you his heart this Lent!”