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A Piece of My Mind
October 15, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Author Affiliations
  • 1Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York

Copyright 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2014;312(15):1515-1516. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.9261

This past April, I was asked by my hospital’s Pastoral Care Department to help out with their Ash Wednesday services. Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for pastoral care, a sort of spiritual Black Friday, and the office phone started ringing at 6 am, nurses and supervisors calling in states of high anxiety to make sure that the ashes were coming for the patients or employees under their care. That’s when it’s all hands on deck, getting feet and thumbs attached to those little pots of palm ashes and sending them out into the wards and waiting rooms and cafeterias. As one of the six chaplain-interns that year, I was one of about two dozen people in the department who might have distributed the ashes—it’s not actually required that one be ordained to do this.

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