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Observing Ash Wednesday in Unexpected Circumstances

After perhaps a year or more of not gathering on-site for Ash Wednesday services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, worshiping communities across a large swath of the US are dealing with or expecting severe weather that would prevent gathering on-site. This solemn observance is a treasured one in the liturgical year, a day to be gathered with one another and to have the ashen cross marked on our forehead, reminding us of the dust from which we came and to where we will return. 

Conversations on social media have begun, as fellow worship planners ask one another what they are doing when assembling for worship on-site will not be possible. Below are some ideas to consider.  

Incorporating elements of Ash Wednesday Worship into the First Sunday in Lent Ash Wednesday begins the forty-day journey to Easter, but elements of this service could begin the Sunday worship service on the first Sunday in Lent. Consider beginning the service for Lent 1 with Psalm 51 or another penitential psalm and the Invitation to Lent (Evangelical Lutheran Worship p. 252; Leaders Desk Edition, p. 617). Instead of what you had planned as an order for confession for that day, consider using the extended confession (pp. 252-253) followed by the Imposition of Ashes. 

Following the Imposition of Ashes, the service would continue with the prayer of the day for Lent 1 and then move into the Word portion of the service. It may be desired to use the Lent 1 scripture readings or a combination of Ash Wednesday or Lent 1 depending upon your context. 

Online worship options
Perhaps the best option for your assembly is to provide an online option, just as you may have done during the past few years. 

Although not essential, you may wish to find ashes, soil, or water to mark the sign of the cross on your own forehead, either during an online service, an individual meditation time or family worship at home, or at another point during the day. All three signify death and new life — the ashes from the palm branches of last year; common soil since human beings in Genesis 2 are earth creatures made of dust; and, water which in baptism joins us to the death of Christ.   

You may have access to ashes from a local congregation or by burning palms from a previous Palm Sunday service. Soil can simply be dug from the earth near where you live.  Water can be any water, perhaps from the tap in your home. 

Transferring to another time
Some assemblies might consider offering an on-site worship option at another time prior to Lent 1 if weather conditions have improved.  

Others might look to moving the observance a week later. If doing so, note that the language for the Invitation to Lent (ELW LE p. 617) would need very slight adjustment to acknowledge we have already begun the Lenten season.  

As you begin these days of Lent in many and various ways, blessings as you remember and are remembered by the God who is gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.

For What Shall We Pray? A Weekly Prayer Resource

In the fall of 2021, the ELCA Worship Blog began a weekly series entitled, “Prompts for Prayers of Intercession.” Each post included a listing of prayer prompts based on current news and events, as well as a listing of upcoming commemorations and observations and additional prayer and hymn suggestions from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW)/All Creation Sings (ACS) and ELCA resources. 

The goal of the project was to give church leaders a resource for crafting, updating, and contextualizing the weekly prayers of intercession for their worshiping communities. The prompts were intended to be a simple way to remain mindful of world events, in order to add relevant information to the “especially…” and the “Here other intercessions may be offered” invitations in the prayers of intercession published in Sundays and Seasons. 

As we continue to evaluate and evolve this weekly resource, know that we grateful for your ongoing feedback. We are especially grateful for all who responded to our survey this past November. We have learned that many of you are using the prompts to update and supplement the prayers of intercession in worship. Many of you, however, are using the prompts for a wider variety of purposes, whether praying through the list as part of your personal prayer practice, incorporating requests into prayer times at Bible studies or church meetings, or as a resource for prayer teams in your congregation. 

Beginning this Lent, the blog series will be retitled, “For What Shall We Pray?” This new title honors a more expansive understanding of the purpose of this resource. It is not merely a worship planning tool; it is a weekly invitation for individuals, groups, and congregations to remain mindful of the needs of our world, and to lift one another up in prayer. 

Photo credit: Sundays and Seasons

Each week we will offer a list of prayer prompts, a listing of upcoming observances – inside the church and beyond – and additional prayer resources from denominational worship materials. “For What Shall We Pray?” will be posted by noon each Tuesday on the ELCA Worship Blog ( and linked on the ELCA Worship Facebook page.  

 We encourage you to find creative ways to use “For What Shall We Pray?” for yourself and for your communities of faith. You might: 

  • “Pray the news” as part of your personal prayer practice 
  • Incorporate the week’s requests in your opening or closing prayers at church council or committee meetings, or during Bible and small group studies 
  • Use the post as a teaching resource or tool for reflection for confirmation class or adult forum 
  • Choose items from the post as journaling prompts or focus items for meditation 
  • Commit to an act of service, advocacy, or financial support based on the week’s needs 
  • Celebrate a new-to-you observance with family or friends 
  • Double-check the blog before leading worship (if you are a pastor or assisting minister) for last-minute additions to your congregation’s prayers 

Whether you have been using this resource or are new to it, we hope that you will find it helpful in your spiritual disciplines and your community’s worship life, as together we faithfully ponder the question, “for what shall we pray?” 

Hepatha Lutheran Church Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Pastor Melissa Bills
Melissa Bills currently serves as the Director of College Ministries and College Pastor at Luther College (Decorah, Iowa). She is a native of the Chicago suburbs, a graduate of St. Olaf College (Northfield, Minnesota) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Princeton, New Jersey), and has served congregations in the Metropolitan Chicago and Northeastern Iowa Synods.

Prayer Resources in Time of Earthquakes

For information on how you can assist the relief effort for the latest earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, connect to the work of Lutheran Disaster Response.

Prayers of Intercession 

These petitions may be added to the assembly’s prayers of intercession. 

God, our refuge, come to the aid of all in need following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Give strength to those who search and wait, heal the injured, and soothe with your tender care all who cry out in grief. Merciful God,
receive our prayer. 

For those who have suffered loss of home and loved ones in Syria and Turkey; for medical personnel tending all who are wounded; for rescue workers risking safety to help others; for children left without parents and parents mourning the death of children, for all attending to basic survival, especially the work of Lutheran Disaster Response. God, in your mercy,
receive our prayer. 


Praying for those suffering 

Loving God,
in the communion of Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all.  
Be with those who endure the effects of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
Protect those in the path of danger.
Open the pathway of evacuations.
Help loved ones find one another in the chaos.
Provide assistance to those who need help.
Ease the fears of all and make your presence known in the stillness of your peace;
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

National distress 

Eternal God,
amid all the turmoil and changes of the world 
your love is steadfast and your strength never fails.
In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian.
Guide the leaders of the nations with your wisdom,
comfort those in distress,
and grant courage and hope to face the future;
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 76) 

Time of community mourning 

Our help comes from you, O Lord, you who made heaven and earth. In the midst of grief, you are our comfort. In the face of uncertainty, you are our rock. In the wake of tragedy, you are our hope. So even as we weep, we praise you, and place our trust in you. We pray in the name of the one who suffered and died and was raised for us, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(from Service after a Violent Event, All Creation Sings, page 66) 

God our creator,
through whose providing care we enjoy all goodness and life,
turn our eyes to your mercy in this time of confusion and loss.
Comfort those who mourn the loss of loved ones because of the earthquake;
shine your light on those whose only companion is darkness;
and teach us all so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to your wisdom; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 77) 

O God, 
who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the troubled heart,
bring hope and courage to all who are affected by this earthquake as we wait in uncertainty.
Bring assurance that you will be with us in whatever lies ahead.
Give us courage to endure all that we now face,
for you are our refuge and strength.
You are God, and we need you.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
(Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship Pastoral Care, page 174) 

Prayer after disaster  

Especially for those in areas that were not directly impacted by the earthquake. 

Gracious God,
our word of peace stills the storms that rage in our world.
Bring hope to places that know devastation in the calm after the earthquake.
Bring comfort to those who grieve the loss of loved ones and property.
Let your love be known through those who work to bring order in the chaos.
Help us to shoulder the burden of suffering
and make us bearers of the hope that can be found in you
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

Especially for those who were directly impacted by the earthquake. 

Merciful God,
Hear our cry for mercy in the wake of the earthquake.
Reveal your presence in the midst of our suffering.
Help us to trust in your promises of hope and life
so that desperation and grief will not overtake us.
Come quickly to our aid that we may know peace and joy again.
Strengthen us in this time of trial 
with the assurance of hope we know in the death and resurrection 
of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.