Pancakes to Ashes–An Ash Wednesday Service on Shrove Tuesday

Pancakes to Ashes–An Ash Wednesday Service on Shrove Tuesday

If you are like many churches, you may offer a parish gathering on Shrove Tuesday. Maybe it’s a Mardi Gras celebration. Maybe it’s a pancake feast. But couldn’t it be more?

Simple, Intergenerational, and Meaningful

On the evening of Shrove Tuesday, after the pancake supper at 6:30pm, all are invited into the sanctuary at 6:55 for a 30 minute worship service. About 1/3rd of the supper attendees attend the service.

Worship begins with a kid-friendly song and welcome from the clergy leader, followed by the collect for Ash Wednesday, and the Lord’s Prayer. We then move into learning time, which mixes visual and verbal teachings. The leader tells the children they will receive ashes and then breaks down why this is and what it symbolizes, using imagery from the creation story and baptism.

Three Teaching Points

Dirt, Earth, Ashes – For the creation story, the leader uses the imagery and language from Genesis 2. While recounting the story, they mix dirt and water in a bowl. They make a paste in their hands and then blow on it. This imagery is a good way to recall the creation story and how God made the first human being from the earth and God’s Spirit. This dirt is like the ashes that are used to mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. It’s important to make the connection for everyone – “from ashes to ashes” is a poetic way of saying from “earth to earth” (or as kids might think of it: “from dirt to dirt”).

Water, Baptism, Marked As Christ’s Own – The leader then moves to the baptismal font if it’s close by (pro tip: have a wet cloth nearby to wipe your hands!). Alternatively, the leader can put a bowl on the altar or a table and pour water into the bowl to mimic the baptismal font. At Jesus’s baptism, God made clear his love for Jesus. God loves us too. Baptism is also a good way for the leader to talk about the shape of the ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday. At our baptism, the priest marks a cross on the person’s forehead to seal them as “Christ’s own forever.” The ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday are in the shape of a cross to remind us that we belong to Jesus and he loved us, and lived, died, and rose again for us.

Sin, Confession, Forgiveness – The last piece of learning comes when the leader talks about the importance of saying we are sorry as part of Ash Wednesday. They can use real-life examples of when an apology is appropriate, so that all ages can understand. This teaching moment leads into a modified, all-ages confession of sin:

When we have not listened to our parents as we know we should,
Have mercy, Lord
When we have not shared with friends and strangers in need,
Have mercy, Lord
When we have not included children who have no friends in our games and activities,
Have mercy, Lord
As we better listen, share, and include others, may we better reflect your love with all those around us.
Have mercy, Lord
God forgives us. We forgive others. We forgive ourselves. Amen.

The Imposition of Ashes

The service continues with the traditional imposition of ashes and singing of familiar songs.  The final piece is a brief reminder of the three elements of learning and a closing blessing. 

In this service, we have found the following songs work well unaccompanied, although instrumental support and/or a strong lead singer is helpful!

Jesus, We Are Here
Amazing Grace
Jesus Loves Me This I Know
Lord, Prepare Me To Be A Sanctuary 
Bless The Lord My Soul
Go Now In Peace

Special Thanks

Special thanks to the people of St. Columba’s who inspired these teaching points and the people of Christ Church where this service took place!


The Rev. Serena Sides serves as Assistant Chaplain (part-time) at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel in Nashville, TN. She was previously Assistant Rector at Christ Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Prior to being ordained, Serena was a corporate lawyer for many years and worshipped with her family at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, DC. 

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