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Christian commuters in Pontiac got an early start to Ash Wednesday with "drive-thru ashes" offered in the parking lot of a local church.

Two priests at All Saints Episcopal Church offered to-go ashes in the parking lot from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, said the Rev. Linda Northcraft.

"So many people work these days and it's very difficult to accommodate people's work schedules," said Northcraft, who added approximately 35 drivers lined up to receive ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads.

"People just rolled down their windows and we gave the traditional Ash Wednesday sign of the cross with the ashes and we said, 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' "

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season during which many Christians worldwide focus on praying, fasting and alms-giving in preparation for Easter on April 5.

During services Wednesday, parishioners receive ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads.

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"The whole point of the ashes is to kind of remind us of our mortality (and) the common humanity we share," said fellow priest at All Saints Church, the Rev. Chris Berg. "I really think people hunger for that sense of their value as human beings."

Shortly before 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the church received a call from two women who had missed the early morning distribution, Berg said. The women asked if they were too late to receive ashes.

"You're never too late," Berg said he told the women, before bringing ashes back into the parking lot for a personalized to-go order.

"I think the point is we're here to respond to people's needs," Berg said. "We ought to position ourselves to be as responsive as we can."

Northcraft said the church opted to offer parking lot ash distribution for the first time this year as a continuation of the parish's outreach programs.

Located at 171 W. Pike Street, All Saints Church offers free breakfast as well as a fresh vegetable and fruit market each Saturday.

The parish also runs a tutoring program for kids and a resale shop.

"We're a parish that really focuses on the neighborhood," Northcraft said. "(Drive-thru ashes) is actually taking the church out of the church and onto the parking lot."

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

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