Ash Wednesday is coming soon, and let me tell you–there is a LOT to do before Lent kicks off. One of the more interesting tidbits about living and working up here are the perceptions about what it means to Protestant and what it means to be Catholic. I hear it a lot, mostly in subtle ways. One of the ways that divide becomes manifest is in the worship space. Symbolism in worship is approached…cautiously. It seems, for some at least, that there is a fine line between the symbols that can point us deeper into our faith and symbols that are seen as distracting to our true purpose.
All of that to say that Ash Wednesday seems, in my congregation at least, to be a little more “Catholic” than some are used to. This past Sunday, I invited the congregation to put aside what they think about Lent and Ash Wednesday and come and experience it in a new way. This altar is part of that plan.
Here’s what you need:
-burlap (recalling the sackcloth of yore)
-hurricanes (I like these simple ones in a contemporary style)
–a box of shattered mirror
Start with the basics, your table and the burlap. You’ll notice the frayed edge on the burlap. Rip out a couple of strands to reminds us that we are unfinished and raw.
Use the hymnals to add different levels to the altarscape and top with your shattered mirror. N.B.: Try to keep the pointy edges from jutting dangerously off the side of the table. At Westfield, we won’t be having a children’s moment during the service, so kids won’t be around it too much, but for safety’s sake–be careful!
The pieces of mirror will reflect the light of the candles wonderfully for our nighttime service.
Next, the hurricanes. I found these at the Pottery Barn Outlet all the way in Gaffney, South Carolina (on the sale rack, no less). Target also recently had something very similar on sale. I tend toward using these in odd numbers (more pleasing to the eye). I made sure to place them on glass and on different levels.
Add the candlesticks and candles. I like the height the candlesticks give and the symbolism of the distance our brokenness sometimes creates between us and God.
Next, rocks! One of tenet of effective altar design through a season is to use materials or elements each week that both harken back to what we saw the we before and foreshadow what we will see in the week or weeks to come. The rocks are part of that idea as we will see them return several times through Lent.
Here’s the completed altar. At the service, we will have ashes in a container on one of the shards of glass. I suggest putting your altar together a couple of days before, then coming back at night to see how the light will play off of it. Will you dim your lights? Just use candles? These variables might influence the way you design your altar and worship space.
Are you putting together an altar for Ash Wednesday? Send me a picture! I’d love to see your ideas!