CAPITAL REGION -- For Christians, the Lenten tradition begins today.
Many men, women and children will visit Capital Region churches and receive a smudge of ashes on their foreheads during Ash Wednesday services.
"Remember that you are dust," they will hear, "and to dust you shall return."
People in Schenectady and Amsterdam will have other options: Some church representatives will administer ashes in outdoor settings.
In Schenectady, Rev. Dustin G. Wright of Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam and Rev. Deron Milleville of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glenville will continue their own tradition -- distributing ashes on the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall during the morning hours.
In Amsterdam, Pastor Larry Greenwold of United Presbyterian Church will participate in a street side imposition of ashes outside the church entrance at 25 Church St., across from the Amsterdam Free Library, during morning and afternoon hours.
Ashes will be distributed on Jay Street from 7:30 until 11 a.m.
Milleville said the "Ashes to Go" mission has been held for several years. He said he and Wright understand some people will not make it to church for their ashes. "It's a reminder they're loved and God still has a purpose for them," he said.
Sometimes, Milleville said, a crowd will gather. That will attract attention.
"Some of our own parishioners have come out to see us," Milleville said. "There have been people who haven't been in church for years and some people who just have stories to tell. It's great to hear those stories."
Milleville expects he and Wright will position themselves near the Ambition cafe. Once the outdoor ministry has concluded, the two pastors will participate in a noon service at Good Shepherd Lutheran. Services will be conducted at both churches at 7 p.m.
"'Ashes to Go' is part of a national movement that began back to 2007,” Wright said in a released statement. "We are bringing the church and its ministry to places where people go every day. God calls us to serve, welcome and celebrate everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation or all the other ways we define ourselves."
In Amsterdam, Greenwold said he will be in place with ashes from 7:30 until 8:45 a.m. He will return to his spot outside the church entrance from 4 until 5:30 p.m.
Like the Schenectady County pastors, Greenwold understands not all people will be able to visit their home churches for the annual marking. He believes it's important they still have a chance to participate.
"This is the beginning of the Lenten season of reflection, the season of strengthening one's faith," he said.
Prayer requests also will be taken. People can write down their requests on a piece of paper or share them verbally. The congregation will pray for all during Sunday services.
Greenwold said he hopes people will be able to focus on the beginning of Lent, and what it means to follow Christ. He said interactions could be brief, partly because people may be going to work in the morning or returning home from their jobs during the afternoon.
Cold weather may also play a part in short conversations. "This is a new experience for me," Greenwold said of the outdoor church exercise.