So. Cal. PC(USA) churches feature three bowls on Ash Wednesday

Two contain ashes, the other gunpowder

February 11, 2016

A bowl with gunpowder (center) accompanies two bowls of ashes during Ash Wednesday services at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif.

A bowl with gunpowder (center) accompanies two bowls of ashes during Ash Wednesday services at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif. —Photo provided

LOUISVILLE

The mystery of mortality—of our living and dying—played itself out a remarkable way last night as two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in Southern California gathered for a joint Ash Wednesday service.

Three bowls were on the communion table at St. Mark Presbyterian Church. Two were filled with ashes for marking a visible cross on parishioner’s foreheads. The third bowl contained gunpowder.

It was a tangible reminder for people from St. Mark in Newport Beach and New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange of the 30,000 people who die each year as a result of gun violence.

The service became personal when the Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, pastor of New Hope, stood to address those gathered. “I told them that I would be anointing my head with gunpowder,” she said, “that I was doing this to stand in solidarity with my dear friend who was killed by a bullet.”

Sharonda Coleman Singleton was one of nine killed in the June 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

The Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, Calif., receives communion at Ash Wednesday services.

The Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, Calif., receives communion at Ash Wednesday services. —Photo provided

“She was in my wedding, there for the birth of my child, we were college classmates,” said Goodjoin. “I wanted to turn that bullet that killed her into something more meaningful.

During Lent, St. Mark and New Hope are doing a six-week Bible study together on gun violence—last night’s Ash Wednesday service was for members of both congregations to become even more aware of the personal impact of gun violence in our country.

“I was a little bit numb by the time I got there for the actual sign of the cross,” said Goodjoin. “But before, during some reflection time, I felt a great wave of pain and relief as I tried to identify with Sharonda—with what she must have gone through in a place of prayer as she was shot.”

As this was happening Goodjoin prayed for the victims of San Bernardino and Sandy Hook, imagining the surprise of what they must have felt.

And then she had a flashback to the grief she felt, remembering the voice message she still has on her cell phone. Two days before Singleton was killed she had called Goodjoin.

“She said on that voice mail, five different times, ‘All shall be well, all shall be well,’” said Goodjoin. “It was very emotional for me, standing there in the sanctuary at the communion table remembering, and then seeing just the gunpowder, there was no bullet there.”

  1. The posted comments so far sound as though we are now in the season of vent. I'm all for getting things off our chest as we say, and for as much grace as possible, too. I understand the symbols of our faith including the liturgical seasons, colors and practices, to point us to Jesus and to each other. The mix of ash and gun powder does that in a meaningful and appropriately provocative way, as our religious symbols ought and do.

    by Bill Humphreys

    February 18, 2016

  2. The major disconnect between Rev. Goodjoin's words and the true meaning of Ash Wednesday, is a sad and distracting view which, to me, demeans the reason we look to Jesus' sacrifice.

    by KK Petersen

    February 17, 2016

  3. I'm sorry-where is it that you are lifting up Christ? Who is being worshipped? Your friend? Your social justice cause? Where is the redemption in this--it's only guilt. No wonder the PCUSA is hemorrhaging members. It is no longer worship, but simply ceremonializing the pet projects of its adherents.

    by Martha Leatherman

    February 16, 2016

  4. "For gunpowder you are and to gunpowder you shall return?" Aside from everything else (and there's a lot of everything else here), this simply doesn't make any sense.

    by Andrea Hall

    February 16, 2016

  5. Way to keep the focus on Jesus. This is ridiculous.

    by Matt

    February 13, 2016

  6. I always thought that Ash Wednesday was about the preparation for Lent, the 40 days prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. A time for each PERSON to pray and repent for their sinfulness. What part of this pointed to Christ? On a purely secular note, did they ever consider how DANGEROUS it was to be using gunpowder in this way? It is NOT a stable substance and they were lucky that it didn't blow up in their faces.

    by Reformed Catholic

    February 12, 2016

  7. 32,675 people were killed in car accidents in the USA in 2014. Maybe the church should have had a cup of gasoline available for anointing the faithful. Or maybe the church should have just lifted up Jesus instead - novel idea huh?

    by Chris Evans

    February 12, 2016