Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The small procession walked down 16th Street to the BART station in San Francisco. Two brown wooden candleholders with candles lit, a wooden cross of Jesus carried by little David Smith-Tan. Incense billowed in the wind from the brass-gold thurible. Black clad lay people and clergy walked quietly toward the grubby street corner. Passers by ignored them, smiled, look startled and some joined in.

The corner denizens include drug dealers and buyers, men and women selling themselves, drunks and homeless people, some with shopping carts filled with recyclables and belongings, two in wheel chairs and some asking for spare change. But most of the people at 5:00 PM on Ash Wednesday were hurrying down into BART to get home. Others emerged from the station after a days work to get home to families and friends. It is a perfectly safe area unless you are buying or selling sex or drugs.

Episcopal Priests, Gloria Del Castillo, John Kirkley, and Richard Smith read a brief passage of scripture and the confession and absolution in English and in Spanish. “This is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent. All are welcome to receive ashes.” A bus roared by. Pigeons dropped. Newspapers blew in the wind.

People came forward to receive the ashes, hearing “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return” as the sign of the cross in black ash was placed on foreheads. Some came haltingly, some unsure, some embarrassed and some with a smile. The sound of the BART rumbled from below. One man came up the escalator from the station below, glanced over, and walked right to a priest, without missing a beat, pushed his head forward, received the ashes and walked quickly away without a nod. Most said thank you or amen. Some 400 people received ashes that day.

A burly, serious looking policeman surveyed the goings on. He politely refused ashes.

One young woman came up to Fr. John and asked for a blessing. He talked with her for few minutes. She was close to tears. He gently offered some words of assurance and invited her to come to St. John’s on Sunday.

My eighteen-year-old blonde granddaughter was visiting from Andover, MA. She is a member of Christ Church, Andover, a large comfortable suburban parish. She was excited to go to the BART station service. She came with her dark-haired friend Philene. Mary Charlotte is very interested in the church and is the Youth Member of the Council of the Diocese of Massachusetts. She and Philene received the ashes and were most interested to see some of the important ways the church ministers to people of the inner city. I am delighted with her enthusiasm and excitement in the Episcopal Church.

I am endlessly proud of our parish of St. John the Evangelist, which with limited resources, ministers so effectively to the heterogeneous people of he Mission District of San Francisco.


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