Why Some Churches Added Glitter To Ash Wednesday

by Eliza Castile

This year, some churches are putting an inclusive spin on a well-known holiday with Glitter+Ash Wednesday. A mixture of Christian tradition and LGBTQ support, the project calls for churches to add purple glitter to their ashes as a sign of LGBTQ visibility and inclusion. Although Christians across the country are participating, the event is helmed by the faith-based LGBTQ advocacy group Parity. On its website, the organization explains, "Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration." Hear, hear!

The day following Fat Tuesday, known as Ash Wednesday, signals the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of self-denial observed by numerous denominations of Christianity. Each year, participants can receive the mark of the cross in plain gray ashes on their foreheads to mark the occasion. On March 1, churches taking part in Glitter+Ash Wednesday seek to add LGBTQ visibility to the tradition by marking worshipers with ashes mixed with glitter — purple glitter, to be specific, in honor of the color's association with Lent.

On the project's event page, Parity notes that glitter was chosen for its long history as a sign of LGBTQ visibility. "Glitter is an inextricable element of queer history. ... We make ourselves fabulously conspicuous, giving offense to the arbiters of respectability that allow coercive power to flourish," the organization writes.

Churches located in cities from Juneau, Alaska, to Greensboro, North Carolina, will offer glittery ashes this Ash Wednesday; the full list of cities can be found at the event map on Parity's website. Observers are asked to post about their participation on Twitter using the hashtag #GlitterAshWednesday.

Glitter+Ash Wednesday also asks participants to consider approaching Lent from a different angle — rather than giving something up, choosing to commit to a specific action. "We will each pledge to put energy into a cause that promotes life and health in the face of death-dealing forces in our world," writes Parity.

Within Christianity, stances on LGBTQ rights are often left up to denominations, with a variety of results. The Presbyterian Church, for example, voted to recognize same-sex marriage years before it was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2012, the Episcopal Church officially prohibited discrimination against transgender members. Although not all denominations or individual churches are welcoming toward LGBTQ people, LGBTQ Christians do exist, as do Christian LGBTQ allies. Parity's executive director, Marian Edmonds-Allen, told USA Today that Glitter+Ash Wednesday is a "recognition of the reality of queer Christians in the world and the beauty LGBTQ Christians bring to faith."

Not everyone has taken to the idea of changing up tradition; some tweets have described the project as "disgusting" and "blasphemous." Some critics point out that the ashes are meant to signal repentance and self-denial — concepts that aren't quite evoked by glitter. However, the project has also found support online.

Under an administration staffed by numerous openly anti-LGBTQ politicians, support for the LGBTQ community is as important as it ever was. To find a participating church or to organize an event yourself, head over to Parity's Glitter+Ash Wednesday page.