The Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson carried on a long tradition on Wednesday. And he did it in a most non-traditional way.

The Imposition of Ashes, observed on the first day of Lent, was held on the portico behind Main Building. Because of COVID-19, it was a contactless ceremony, with prepackaged ashes handed out to those who gathered. As “Amazing Grace” played over a speaker, the attendees dipped a finger into the package and marked a cross on their foreheads.

“Ash Wednesday is always a well-attended service on campus, particularly when it’s in a warm setting,” says Robinson. “In fact, we always run out of seats, so we usually do it several times. About 70 percent of our students come from liturgical Christian traditions, where Ash Wednesday is very important. I love that it is both Catholic and Protestant, too. It has been important to Christians for centuries and to the campus for a long time. I felt like we needed to figure out a creative way to do it.”

Lucy Person ’23, a psychology and Spanish major from Charlotte, North Carolina, wasn’t certain the ceremony would take place this year because of COVID. She was pleased to learn that it would and enjoyed having it outdoors.

“In some ways it makes you feel closer to God,” Person says. “Traditionally it’s nice to have the thumb of someone else make the cross on your forehead, but there was something deeply personal about doing it yourself.”

Grayson Carter, ’22, a religion major from Charlotte, also enjoyed participating in the service while standing in the sunshine.

“I was always taught that church doesn’t happen just in a building,” Carter says. “And I think it’s wonderful that it’s open to people of all faith backgrounds.”

For Robinson, the ceremony was the fulfillment of a promise made on the first day of the semester.

“I was over in the bookstore and a student, who I didn’t know, looked across the bookstore and said, ‘Hi Rev. Ron. I hope we’ll have Ash Wednesday this year, I’ll be there.’ And I thought yes, we will. We sure will. It matters.”