Fort Wayne pastor’s ‘Ashes to Go’ just one form of engaging people

In this March 2017 photo, The Rev. Gary Erdos, past of Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne puts ashes on a man's head while offering Ashes to Go on Ash Wednesday outside the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field. People who didn't have the desire or time to attend a traditional Ash Wednesday service could stop by briefly to receive ashes on their forehead. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Trinity English Lutheran Church, 450 W. Washington Blvd., invites people in 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to see the church, pray or just to visit. It's part of wider efforts by the congregation to engage with people in the community. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
In this June 2017 photo, The Rev. Gary Erdos, past of Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, sits in his patio chair during a Lunch on the Plaza event at Freimann Square. Erdos set up each week at the event to offer simple conversation to anyone who was interested. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

The Rev. Gary Erdos will again offer “Ashes to Go” for Ash Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday outside the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

It’s part of a wider effort by Erdos, pastor of Trinity English Lutheran Church, and his congregation to reach out and engage with people who may not feel comfortable coming to a church.

Last year, Erdos had 49 people stop by for Ashes to Go, a large number of whom were members of his church, 450 W. Washington Blvd. in downtown Fort Wayne.

“We hope we have a lot broader reach this year,” with more people from the community at large participating, he said.

Erdos offers Ashes to Go for people who don’t have the desire or time to attend a traditional Ash Wednesday service. Trinity English also will offer traditional Ash Wednesday worship services at noon and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church.

In many Christian faiths, receiving ashes on the forehead to start the penitential season of Lent is a sign of acknowledging sinfulness and human mortality.

Erdos and Trinity English Lutheran also make other efforts to engage people throughout the year.

“We know people interact with church in other ways now,” such as not attending worship services regularly, he said. “How do we put ourselves in a position for them to interact with us.”

The church invites passers-by to visit its sanctuary from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays throughout the year. Last summer during weekly Lunch on the Plaza events at Freimann Square, Erdos also set up two patio chairs and a small sign saying, “You talk & I listen,” offering the opportunity for people to just stop and chat.

In nice weather, about five people a day have stopped to come in and see the church, Erdos said. Some take the opportunity to pray while others are there to see what the church looks like inside.

He averaged about three people a day at the weekly Lunch on the Plaza chats, he said.

He’s learned people seem to want to be taken seriously for who they are, he said. They also want to know if a church’s interest in them is sincere.

Last year, for example, Erdos said he asked people receiving ashes to go if he could say a prayer for them. People seemed a little startled at first, but most then shared something to pray for, such as the person was searching for a new job, had a friend who was sick or was grateful for something good that happened in his or her life.

“In some ways,” Erdos said, “maybe we don’t ask that question very often: ‘What’s on your heart? Can we walk with you on that?'”

When he took his patio chairs to Freimann Square, people often asked if he would be back the next week, as if testing whether he really was committed to his simple goal of offering conversation or whether he was just trying to sell them something.

Erdos, who plans to return to Lunch on the Plaza again this year, said he’s definitely committed to meeting people where they are and walking with them from there.

All relationships take a long time to develop, he added.

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For more about Trinity English Lutheran Church, go to https://www.trinityenglish.org.

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