The March 10 Portland Press Herald carried a letter expressing “utter dismay at the curbside service” offered in an Ash Wednesday “Ashes to Go” program in Portland.

As the only lay person involved in that program, I’d like to offer a different viewpoint.

When asked to participate I did have doubts, not sure what reception we would get on the street. We weren’t trying “to promote the return of Christians to their faith,” as the letter-writer mentions. All we were doing was taking the church to the people, which is exactly what one woman rushed up to us to say: “Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed. “I forgot it was Ash Wednesday and am too busy to get to church; you brought the church to me!”

That was the reaction of nearly everyone who stopped. My minister and I had to stop shortly before noon because he had to conduct a service at our church, a place the writer referred to as a “more appropriate place.”

The “Ashes to Go” program was never meant to replace church services. It was intended to provide a service to people who might not have an opportunity to get to a church or share in this ritual at the beginning of Lent.

Yes, I had my doubts about how we might be received, that is, until the first person watched us from afar and then came over and asked for ashes. “Thank you for being here for us,” she whispered, after the sign of the cross had been made with ash on her forehead.

After seeing wonder turn to joy and hearing the praise of the participants, I felt honored and thankful to have been a part of something so special, and yes, very intimate and sacred and right there in the middle of Monument Square!

Isabelle S. Appleton

member of Trinity Episcopal Church

Portland

“Ashes to Go” was right on target, reaching all the working and shopping public in downtown Portland on a holy day.

I wonder if the couple from Windham who wrote the letter in the March 10 Portland Press Herald have looked around lately at the pews at Sunday Mass? Not many young people in there, are there? Many have to work seven days a week to keep their homes from being foreclosed on, and sometimes on the seventh they rest, just as God did when he created the world.

I have to say, churches are fast losing by staying put in their concrete edifices. I’m sure you are also aware of all of the churches closing, as well.

Our archaic pope is totally out of touch too, sitting on his velvet throne.

The religious must come out to the public to have their messages heard. Where are all the Peters and Pauls who brought Jesus’ word to the masses?

Forget all the dogma, everyone just wants a smile, a kind word and some gentle encouragement in this challenging day we’re living in.

These Episcopal ministers were wonderful being present on Ash Wednesday. What forethought. I congratulate them one hundred percent.

Elizabeth Cumiskey

Kennebunk

Begorra, an independent with power? Stuff of myth

In the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day today, we’ve heard about leprechauns, unicorns and freshman senators with magical powers to bring harmony to Washington.

They are, of course, all mythical creatures. Like the pot ‘o gold at the end of the rainbow, the idea that a freshman senator will be able to fix Washington when Olympia Snowe failed at it is, well, blarney.

When Senate Republicans have stated that their only goal is to see this president fail, then no amount of charm and folksiness is going to alter their stance. The persuadable Republican is as elusive as that pot ‘o gold.

A senator without a party is not the most popular girl at the prom. A senator without a party is a wallflower. Nobody considers independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut or Bernie Sanders of Vermont to be the most powerful men in Washington. Angus King in the Senate is not going to be the new Snowe. He’ll be the new Lieberman, minus 24 years of seniority.

The gentleman from Virginia is a big fish in Maine. In D.C., he’d be chum. Al Franken would have more clout in the Senate than King, by virtue of seniority. When was the last time you heard Franken making news?

When you raise your St. Patrick’s Day pint today, remember that unicorns, leprechauns and powerful freshman senators are all charming fantasies, and nothing more.

Slainte!

Robert R. O’Brien

Peaks Island

Thompson deserves votes for Olympic Hall of Fame

Jenny Thompson, the former Dover N.H., and legendary Olympic swimmer, is nominated for this year’s Olympic Hall of Fame. Selection will be made from online voting until April 9.

This would be a great story for New England. Thompson works at Maine Medical Center and is active in fundraising for pools in Dover.

I have had the privilege of meeting Thompson and she is a terrific role model for young athletes. She has had the Dover outdoor swimming pool named in her honor. Thompson is one of the greatest U.S. Olympic champions in history.

If you check out the Olympic Hall of Fame website, you can see some of her accomplishments. It is easy to vote. Go to http://tinyurl.com/7ykscfv.

Larry Johnston

Laconia, N.H.