NEW YORK — Standing outside the historic Stonewall Inn, a clergy member said a quick prayer as she marked a young woman with ashes — ashes that sparkled even under the cloudy sky.
As a project of Parity, a faith-based LGBTQ-focused organization in New York City, nearly 100 churches nationwide marked their congregation with "glitter ashes" on Ash Wednesday to promote and celebrate the inclusion of LGBT Christians.
The glitter symbolizes a "sign of our hope, which does not despair," according to Parity's website, as it is also an "inextricable element of queer history."
The website explains:
Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance. During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.
For the charismatic Rivers of Living Water church in the Upper West Side, Wednesday evening will mark its first Ash Wednesday service, and Pastor Vanessa Brown told TheBlaze that it will use glitter ashes.
"So our church is an affirming church, it is an inclusive church," Brown said. "It is predominately LGBTQIA. We know that glitter is a part of queer history. I felt like it would be great to bring both the glitter and the ashes.
"It’s a blending of symbols — of mortality, of hope and also of penance and celebration," she said.
And for Rutgers Presbyterian Church, slightly more than a dozen blocks south, the ashes symbolize the church's commitment to environmental issues as well.
"We combine it with environmental issues — so recognizing that we are stardust, all of us, the whole universe is created mostly of those remnants and that brings that inclusivity even broader," Pastor Andrew Stehlik told TheBlaze in an interview. "We will be combining those two aspects — environmental and mystery of unity which has been expanded into all different gender identities."
Stehlik added that he hopes the glitter will "alleviate the generally grim tone of Ash Wednesday."
The glitter ashes weren't just requested by churches in the more liberal New York City; in fact, pastors from all types of denominations requested the specialized ashes from Springfield, Mo; Athens, Ga.; San Antonio; Madison, Tenn.; and Hays, Kan.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning Lent, a 40-day period of repentance for Christians.
While Parity encouraged individuals to offer ashes as well throughout the day, both Rutgers Presbyterian and Rivers of Living Water churches will offer Ash Wednesday services Wednesday evening.