Two churches in the north east take Ash Wednesday to the streets of Sunderland

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On Ash Wednesday, 10 February, two churches in the North East of England, St Mary’s Catholic Church and Sunderland Minster, will be working together to offer Ashes to Go – a new approach to a centuries-old Christian tradition.

The initiative will take place around Sunderland city centre beginning with a 10am service in the Minster, after which two local Bishops and other Church leaders will take to the city’s streets and the Bridges Shopping Centre to mark the foreheads of interested passers-by with ashes and invite them to turn away from the past and seek God’s forgiveness and renewal.

‘Ashes to Go’ will end with Mass at 12.05pm in St Mary’s Church.

The bishops taking part are the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.

This is part of an international movement that sees clergy and lay people visiting bus stops, street corners, coffee shops, and train stations to distribute ashes to those interested.

In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the holy season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Easter. 

For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the forehead at the beginning of that season with an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness. Ashes to Go provides the opportunity for people who have lost their connection to a church, or have never participated before, to take part in that tradition.

“This will be a tremendous witness in our city, with Catholics and Anglicans working together to start the season of Lent, perhaps reminding those who have fallen away from the Church, or have never been before, that the Christian faith is alive and active in Sunderland,” says Fr Marc Lyden-Smith, parish priest of St Mary’s and chaplain to Sunderland AFC.

“I hope it will remind everyone that we have a loving and Merciful God, who welcomes all no matter what!” 

Ashes to Go is about bringing the important traditions of our faith out from behind church doors and into the community,” says Canon Sheila Bamber of Sunderland Minster. 

“As people get busier and busier, we need the church to be working in new and non-traditional ways. We especially need reminders of forgiveness in the tough places of our lives. The people who accept ashes on the street are often people longing to make a connection between their faith and the pressures of daily life, and Ashes to Go helps them feel that connection.

“This is the first time we have taken part in Ashes to Go here in Sunderland and we are delighted that Bishop Paul and Bishop Seamus are joining us.”


To explore further or find information on our Easter services, please contact:

Fr Marc Lyden-Smith
St Mary’s Church
0191 567 5354

Canon Sheila Bamber
Sunderland Minster
0191 565 4066