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Glitter+Ash Wednesday: A gritty, scandalous hope

Rev. Elizabeth Edman, author of Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People know about Life & Love and how it can revitalise Christianity popped in to our online gathering on 14th February 2021 to share the story of how Glitter+Ash Wednesday started in New York City in 2017in collaboration with the fabulous LGBTQ+ Faith organisation Parity. Watch the clip below.

We’re taking on this radically inclusive practice at Inclusive Gathering Birmingham (pandemic-style) by posting out Glitter+Ash painted stones in the post to anyone who would like one this week. Email your postal address to newchurchbirmingham@gmail.com to receive one.

Why Inclusive Ashes Matter

Ash Wednesday (this year, on 17th February) marks the beginning of Lent, a season to look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health toward Easter. Traditionally, many Christians around the world receive a cross ‘blessing’ in Ash on their foreheads on this day.

I grew up in the church, but receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday was not something we ‘did’. In fact, the idea of a receiving ashes was a bit scandalous to me … a mark of a different kind of Christian; of ‘otherness’ rather than a bold and public display of blessing, hope or expectation.

In 2018, Inclusive Gathering Birmingham (then known as New Inclusive Church) had not long been meeting as a community. When Trey Hall (who was instrumental in launching IGB) invited us to help freely offer ash blessings in Birmingham City Centre, I’ll confess, my stomach lurched a little. Ashes were a bit out of my comfort zone. But I trusted Trey and sensed it was important, so I took a deep breath and said yes. And I’m thankful for the experience because I believe that very public, inclusive act was formative in who we were becoming as a community.

Trey Hall giving an Ash blessing.

I remember standing across from New Street Station. Trey started calling out, ‘Get your free inclusive ashes here … ashes for everyone!’ in his bold, smiley and winsome way, which gave us the confidence to start calling out too. We obviously got some strange looks, but also had some incredibly beautiful moments of conversation, blessings, prayers and ashes. There was joy in offering a free blessing, no strings attached.

I’d come from a faith environment where being bold and public about my faith was something that was typical and encouraged, but this was different. That day in Birmingham City Centre I caught a glimpse of the power of a radically inclusive faith in Christ.

A faith that breaks down the boundaries that divide us from one another and that honours and celebrates difference.

A faith that offers sacred experiences and symbols freely in public spaces to anyone who wants to take part.

A faith where there is no spiritual admissions criteria at the door to keep you out, or limits on participating as fully as you want to.

A faith that is about invitation, not coercion or control.

To me, that afternoon of offering ashes to ANYONE encapsulates what Inclusive Gathering is all about: a community formed around the idea that you are already ‘in’ and you are welcome as you are. The symbols of faith that are often seen as signs of exclusion or separateness can be about invitation, welcome and love.

EVERYONE is included.

EVERYONE is invited.

EVERYONE is cherished and loved by God.

No artifice required.

I will be forever grateful to Trey Hall for helping me experience the faith-freeing power of radical inclusion in such practical, tactile ways in those first few years of our IGB community.

(Left to Right: Alison Richards, Joel Wilson, Danielle Wilson, Rev Trey Hall)

So what does Glitter have to do with Ash Wednesday?

This isn’t a year where we can offer ash blessings physically, for obvious reasons. But we mark this Ash Wednesday by offering a stone painted with a mixture of Palm Ash and Glitter. While Ash is a sign of mourning, in queer history, glitter has always represented a gritty, scandalous hope. And as you know … glitter gets on EVERYONE. So this sacred practice and hope is for you, whoever you are.

The tradition of Glitter+Ashes was started in New York City back in 2017, and I feel it resonates so deeply with our values and hopes as Inclusive Gathering Birmingham.

Rev Liz Edman blessings someone with Glitter+Ash in New York City.

Co-instigator of Glitter+Ash and author of Queer Virtue Liz Edman writes:

Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of repentance and celebration. It exquisitely captures the relationship between Ash Wednesday and Easter — the relationship between death and new life. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst.”

REv. Elizabeth Edman

If you would like us to send you a Glitter+Ash stone in the post, email your postal address to newchurchbirmingham@gmail.com by 17th February (Ash Wednesday).

We include with the stone this prayer by Reverend Anne Craig:

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth and added stardust to every breath we take.

In the ashes we are mortal beings who suffer. In the glitter we are immortal souls celebrating life.

We come from dust, we return to dust, and in between, we glitter, shimmer and dance in holy light.

Let us go forth, both marked and freed to serve our neighbour, to loose the bonds of injustice, and to shine as if our lives depended on it—because they do! Amen.

Rev. Ann Craig

As you run your fingers over the stone, contemplate both the rough and the smooth. Remember that God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another.

Author Bio:

Danielle Wilson (she/her) is Inclusive Gathering Birmingham‘s pioneer leader/minister and loves to help create safe spaces to discuss life’s deepest questions …particularly over food.  She believes that loving Jesus pushes us to pursue social justice and inclusion in our communities. Danielle is also the Co-CEO of Red Letter Christians UK’s and curates their blog.   She has more than 20 years experience in mission leadership and communications and an MA in Contemporary Missiology: Reconciliation, Justice and Advocacy. She’s been a singer for many years with the all-female acoustic soul band Eeek (who play at our special events from time to time). She’s married to Joel and mum to Evie and Josie.

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