For those that didn’t think anything could subvert the solemnity of Ash Wednesday more than “Ashes to Go,” think again.
Proclaiming “the need for progressive Christian witness has never been more urgent,” a New York-based LGBTQ advocacy group with roots in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has launched “Glitter+Ash”. Parity characterizes glitter ash as a way for churches observing Ash Wednesday to incorporate pro-LGBTQ advocacy into the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season.
Formerly known as Presbyterian Welcome, Parity aims to “support emerging LGBTQ pastors (the forerunners of historical policy change) as they live into their callings” and to “empower LGBTQ and allied young people to integrate their spiritual, gender and sexual identities.”
The group explains that it seeks to “create a world where gender or sexual identity are not barriers to living the whole, full lives that we are called to by God.”
Christians in liturgical traditions apply ashes made from palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday, placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
But while the Christian church has historically understood the imposition of ashes as a sign of penance, Parity sees it as an opportunity for advocacy.
“We will be seen,” the Glitter Ash web site announces. “Glitter is like love. It’s irresistible and irrepressible. “
Parity offers a web site for Glitter Ash, planning to list participating churches, an explanation of the newly-updated practice and instructions on how to impose ashes, along with a handout to distribute to those who receive Glitter+Ash on Ash Wednesday. The site also promises suggestions for liturgy and prayers, soliciting input from those authoring their own liturgy.
“Offering glitter ashes will present an opportunity to breathe fresh life into your liturgy, recapture the surprise in the Christian message, and draw new people into your worship,” Parity promises.
Repentance from sin is not mentioned, but participants can order ashes mixed with glitter for a suggested donation of $10.
“Ashes are a statement that death and suffering are real,” the site explains. “Glitter is a sign of our hope, which does not despair. Glitter signals our promise to repent, to show up, to witness, to work. Glitter never gives up — and neither do we.”
The group urges participants to get the ashes early, wear them all day, and make a short video to distribute on social media about glitter ash using the hashtag #GlitterAshWednesday.
Reporting that glitter “is an inextricable element of queer history” Parity says it is a display of “gritty, scandalous hope.”
“We make ourselves fabulously conspicuous, giving offense to the arbiters of respectability that allow coercive power to flourish,” the site explains, categorizing the combination of glitter and ashes as “an inherently queer sign of Christian belief.”
While Parity celebrates its glitter innovation for Ash Wednesday, the group also asserts that early church fathers would approve as participants “stand witness to the gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that exists in the very marrow of our tradition”:
“During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.”
UPDATE [2/27/2017]: A map provided by Parity lists 48 sites where glitter ash will be made available. Participating congregations are predominantly affiliated with the United Church of Christ (Congregationalist), Metropolitan Community Churches, or Unitarian Universalist Association, but a handful of United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran groups are also listed.