Ash Wednesday DIY Ashes-Making & Ritual • Joel 2:12-13 & Psalm 51:1-12 • Worship Service for In-Home or Remote Group Use

photo: Kathryn M Schreiber (c) 2019

worship format and original contentRev. Kathryn M. Schreiber (c) 2021

Worship Note

As the Living God guides us through these pandemic-impacted times, as social justice reforms arise, we freely offer this worship content for you to adapt for your needs.

About Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent

We begin the holy season of Lent on Ash Wednesday practicing contrition and confession, spiritual practices for refreshing our relationship with God. Lent is a time to seek ease from suffering and illusions. We practice release and acceptance of actions and ideas to grow in integrity and wellbeing. Lent lasts 40 days without Sundays, concluding on Easter morning. Based on the lunar calendar, the dates of Lent vary year to year.

Traditionally, the dried palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burnt to make ash for Ash Wednesday service. In 2020, many of us did not gather for Palm Sunday, instead we worshipped in our homes due to COVID-19 restrictions. While we may not have the traditional items, we can honor the timeless meaning of these rituals. Burning the “triumphant” palms to make ash is a humbling reminder of the fickle nature of humanity. This year, we adapt!

Making Ashes

Please read through all directions before beginning

Make dried “palms”: Assemble pieces of regular weight paper. Use what you have – used or new paper. You’ll need pieces about the size of your hand — notepad sheets, cut up used envelopes, quartered larger pieces of paper. Invite members of your household to write on the paper whatever they wish to offer to God for transformation, especially regrets or confessions. Honor confidentiality by folding paper, only one fold (ensures better burning).

Prepare to burn “palms”: Select a fire-safe low- or no-wind place outside. Assemble: a votive candle in a fire-proof holder, matches, metal tongs for holding burning paper, a medium to large fire-proof bowl or pot, and folded paper “palms.” Fire safety: have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher at hand.

Prayerfully burn the “palms”: Light the protected votive candle. Play music or sing, if you wish. This is a time to ritually release our burdens to God. Enter into a state of prayer. Using the tongs to hold one piece of paper, light one end of the paper and burn over the fire-proof bowl or pot. Release the paper as the last bit of paper burns (it’s okay if not all the paper burns.) Repeat until all the “palms” are burnt. While it doesn’t take much ash, if you think you need more, or wish to keep offering burnt prayers, burn blank paper or dried plant matter. These “blank” offerings may be offered to God as any sort of prayer.

Making the ash: This part is messy! You may want to stay outdoors. Assemble: a lidded glass jar and a wire mesh sieve or strainer. Place the strainer over the jar opening. Pour some of the burnt ashes into the strainer and push through with a finger. Continue until all the burnt paper has been processed. Whatever bits remain behind in the strainer can be sprinkled over the earth.

Ritual Supplies Needed:

* Candle/s: at least one candle, more to set a mood, especially at night

* Ashes: homemade (see above)  

* Towel: for tidying up

* Setting: intentional space for prayer and ritual

Ash Wednesday DIY Ashes Ritual

Acknowledge God’s Presence (light a candle/s)

God, You are the Source of All Life.

God, You are Embodied as Christ.

God, You are the Animating Spirit.

Sing “Come and Fill Our Hearts” (Taizé chant; many recordings on YouTube)


God speaks to us, saying:

“Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to Me, your God, for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; I relent from punishing.” (Joel 2:12-13, NRSV)

We reply to God, saying:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen.” (Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV)

Private Prayer of Confession and Hope

Talk with God about shifts you’d like in your life, in your community. Conclude with The Lord’s Prayer.

Words of Assurance

Take assurance in God’s faithfulness. Burdens placed at God’s feet have been released. Requests made in God’s presence have been heard.

Receive the Ashes

Please note: Some people may not want to be touched on the forehead. You may offer to make the mark of the cross on the top of their dominant hand. If you are doing this ritual alone, you may wish to use a mirror.

We make an ash cross on our forehead/hand to remember our mortality and God’s mercy. We, too, will rise with Christ on Easter morning.

Place a finger in the ash and make the sign of the cross, saying:

(horizontal mark) May God burn away that which harms.

(vertical mark) May New Life spring from these ashes.

art: source unknown


May all who enter the holy season of Lent be open to God’s transforming mercy. May we journey together, seen and unseen, spiritual pilgrims on earth and in heaven. Lenten peace upon all beings. Amen.

(extinguish candle/s; the service is concluded)

Worship Resources:

All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, unless attributed to another source.

(NRSV) New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible, adapted by Kathryn M Schreiber.

Online Image: Kathryn M Schreiber, 2019.

Online Publishing Date: January 21, 2021.

Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author. Please observe ethical use of resources and follow your platforms publishing requirements for all created content.

Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!Living Liturgies:; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn

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