Theology & The Church

Glitter Ash Wednesday: a New Way to Practice Grace

Jes Kast

Editor's note: TC is a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The denomination's position statement on homosexuality can be found here.

Ash Wednesday is my favorite day on the Christian calendar. Some people find this hard to understand considering my relatively upbeat personality, yet I’m drawn to this somber, dark, honest confrontation with death. Ash Wednesday offers relief for me because we can honestly talk about what is ahead for all of us: death. None of us escape it; death is one thing we all have in common.

On Wednesday I will dip my hands in the ashes, welcome New York sojourners into church, make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and say, “From the dust you came to the dust you will return.” It is intimate to touch someone and make a symbol of death—a cross—out of ashes on their body.

On Wednesday an organization called Parity will also offer ashes, but with a “queer” twist. The advocacy group is encouraging churches that are LGBTQ-affirming to use “glitter ashes.” Executive director Marian Edmonds-Allen has said that Glitter Ash Wednesday is “a way for queer Christians and queer-positive persons of faith to say ‘We are here.' It is also a way for other people to be a witness to that and be in solidarity with them.” 

Glitter ashes will provoke some and comfort others. In talking with some of my LGBTQ Christian friends, there were those who were offended and believed that while glitter is a symbol of the queer community, it is the honest confrontation with death, void of glitter, that makes Ash Wednesday so powerful. Indeed, ask anyone in the queer community about death and you will find a story of someone who contemplated taking their life at one time or another. Ash Wednesday, as is, recognizes how difficult life can be for LGBTQ Christians; some do not need to add glitter to that experience.

Mixing glitter and ashes is a way of reconciling two identities.

Others, however, will find that the use of glitter in ashes will help LGBTQ Christians know belonging and God’s love. Some of my queer friends expressed joy and were moved that churches could ensure new ways to communicate God’s love to all, especially LGBTQ Christians. Glitter has always been a symbol of gay culture. Mixing glitter and ashes is a way of reconciling two identities, gay and Christian, two identities that have not historically been seen as going together. Glitter Ash Wednesday can help people know that one’s gender and sexual identity need not be at odds with one’s Christian identity.

The Lenten season is a time of confession and reflection on our sins. Many of us will read Psalm 51:10— “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”—as we prepare our hearts for the Lenten journey. For non-affirming Christians, glitter ashes will be considered a celebration of sin. For affirming Christians, glitter ashes will represent a confession of the church’s systematic exclusion of LGBTQ Christians. And Glitter Ash Wednesday will be a way of proclaiming, as the Heidelberg Catechism does, that all of us who confess our love for Jesus “belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The mixing of these symbols—glitter and ash—will provide healing for some. It will provoke others, and may even offend. I think the beauty of rituals is the space they allow to bring grace to the various people we are serving. Would glitter ashes work at my church? Not at all. Would glitter ashes work at another church? Absolutely. Our work, as the church, is to preach grace. For my community that is void of glitter; for others, grace may come with glitter flecks. May all our rituals lead us closer to experiencing the transforming power of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Editor's note: Some have questioned how glitter ashes can be reconciled with the position on homosexuality held by the Christian Reformed Church, TC's parent denomination. We distinguish between identity and practice. Since 1973, we have called for the affirmation, inclusion, and welcoming of those who identify as LGBTQ into the full life of the church, even as we have called those members to celibacy. For Christians who do not affirm same-sex marriage but do welcome those who identify as LGBTQ to find their fullest identity in Christ, glitter ashes might be seen as a way some have chosen to make space for LGBTQ Christians who have historically been vehemently unwelcome.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Christmas & Easter