Grand Prize winner in writing contest Reply

Ruth Linnea Whitney has won the Grand Prize in the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s Ash Wednesday writing contest. Whitney, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend, Washington, was awarded first place in the poetry category and the $100 Grand Prize for her poem “Ash Season.” She has given churches permission to reprint or otherwise use her poem with proper attribution.

Judges’ comments:

In her poem Ash Season, Ruth Linnea Whitney takes the reader on a Lenten journey from naïve hope, through death and grief, to a seasoned faith. She anchors the spiritual in rich earthy details—the stone walk, a jaw, slender wrists, sawgrass. And after the grief, the poet quiets herself and listens for an active, tender God: a God who knows, who sees, who gathers. Easter is coming.

Jane Kurtz and Caroline Kurtz


By Ruth Linnea Whitney

Everything was easy then and clear.

The world and I were heady with our holdings.

I sowed my future, breath to breath, cunning

as that lone cock who crowed while they led my Lord

up the stone walk and hoisted him between thieves.

The season turned and ease receded, the world and I

turned gray. My father’s jaw burned to silt in an urn.

My mother’s slender wrists cast over buffalo grass

where she began. My friend saw her boy earn his wings,

his plane and body splinter. Far away, a girl of six knelt

on a land mine she took for saw grass. Hours like these,

the ashes fell.

I kneel now and listen for the fall of ashes.

Listen for the One who knows each spark,

sees each particle alight on earth,

gathers each tiny grave into the enormous dark,

where the return to life is done.  

First Place winner in essay category Reply

Ash Wednesday writing contest

Enough of Dust and Ashes

By Keith Dean Myers

Judge’s comments:

“I very much appreciated all six essays: each was thoughtful, creative, heart-felt and eloquent. I chose Keith Dean Myers’ “Enough of Dust and Ashes” for the way he voices for all of us what we are feeling in the unprecedented experience of pandemic. In place of the traditional Ash Wednesday worship service his church sent him a baggie of ashes to use at home. Remembering the liturgical words that accompany the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday Myers asks, ‘How could I not remember that I am dust in this, our long season of pandemic?’ With an edge of irritation he exclaims, ‘I’ve had enough of…..’ and lists our daily catalog of stress and fear…..death, hospitalizations, climbing positivity rates, economic crisis, schools struggling’ and more. And in one eloquent sentence, I thought Myers captures the essence of it: ‘I have had more than enough of dust and ashes stirred up by a virus that clings, sin-like, so close as to take our breath away, forever.’ ”

“Nevertheless, the imposed cross of ashes on his forehead will bear witness, for Myers and for all of us, that ‘the cross triumphs over dust and ashes, including mine.’ ”

John M. Buchanan 


By Keith Dean Myers

On Ash Wednesday 2020, I knelt before a priest as his thumb inscribed a black-as-death cross on my forehead. His words captioned my rough cross with the ancient admonition, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

For Ash Wednesday 2021, my church is offering my wife and me a baggie of blessed ashes for in-home use. We may impose them upon one another while that priest and those words are Zoomed to us. If I lived alone, I could impose them upon myself.

I think, Something about self-imposed ashes, or about a couple imposing ashes upon one another, feels emotionally and liturgically crass.

I also think, How could I possibly not remember that I am dust in this, our long season of pandemic? How could I, denied access to my community of faith, not remember that even the best moments of our one life shall in time return to dust?

COVID-19 has imposed dust and ashes upon me forever.

I am wondering what to do this Ash Wednesday. Even if our faith community were meeting in person, would I meet with it? Can I bear yet another Zoom with that congregation that evening?

God! I have had enough of dust and ashes!

I’ve had enough numbers of COVID-19 cases and death, hospitalizations, and ICU capacities. I’ve had enough news of climbing positivity rates, and agonizing, lonely deaths, and symptoms that linger for months.

I’ve had enough of the dust and ashes of economic crisis and emotional trauma and daily family stresses and month-upon-month separations and schools struggling to do their best and masks and controversies and political posturing and the denial that made it all worse.

And, imposing even more upon us than COVID-19 has, are the dust and ashes of our assaults upon ourselves. I have had enough of Black citizens killed by police, of police killed by anarchists, of democracy threatened by self-serving power, of our planet suffocated by greed and indifference, of too many of us captivated by callously-crafted conspiracy theories, and of all of us likely to distrust anyone distanced from us.

Yes, I am encouraged by vaccines and improved treatment methods. But I am angered by their often haphazard and inequitable administration, and I am troubled about what new COVID-19 mutations could portend.

I have had more than enough of dust and ashes stirred up by a virus that clings, sin-like, so close as to take our breath away, forever.

Nevertheless, I confess that I cannot let Ash Wednesday slip by unacknowledged. In the face of the suffering and death COVID-19 and the rest have imposed upon us, my face will bear witness to my trust that the cross triumphs over dust and ashes, including mine. Remembering my dustiness, I will repent of my despair, and trust Jesus. Forever.

First Place winner in litany/prayer category Reply

Ash Wednesday writing contest

Liturgy by Warren Aney for Southminster Presbyterian Church, Beaverton, Oregon

Judges’ comments:

“Warren Aney has crafted a service with powerful components–weaving together his own words with selected poems, songs, and prayers from other wordsmiths–calling us all to seek justice and reconciliation.”—Jane Kurtz and Caroline Kurtz


January 30, 2021Worship Guides


“When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
 Amanda GormanThe Hill We Climb

CALL TO WORSHIP | Warren Aney, “Soon” (2021)

If we continue on the right path, we shall soon say:
All lives matter now: Black and white and brown, Asian and native, Gay and straight, Rich and poor.
We all can now live and love together; Be appreciated and productive.
Creating and sharing, helping and protecting everyone, family, friend and neighbor, stranger and foreigner.  We have overcome.

OPENING HYMN  |  One Voice Children’s Choir, “Memories”

MINUTE FOR MISSION   Responsive Chorus

There are so many exciting ways that God is working through each of us and in this community. As we consider our receiving and our giving to the works of ministry in this place and in the world, may we remember that we belong to God.

Let us sing

Through all our living, we our fruits must give.
Good works of service are for offering.
When we are giving, or when receiving,
We belong to God.
We belong to God.
We belong to God.
We belong to God.

HEBREW READING | 2 Corinthians 5:16-20

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to herself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to herself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making her appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

THEME READING | Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. To be an African in South Africa means that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth, whether one acknowledges it or not…His life is circumscribed by racist laws and regulations that cripple his growth, dim his potential, and stunt his life…I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, From henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”

THEME VIDEO | “The Hill We Climb” Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

TESTIMONY | “Reflection on Reconciliation” By Calvin Taylor


What are some examples or lessons learned that you would like to share?

SPECIAL MUSIC | “His Daughter” By Molly Kate Kestner, performed by Jason Sabino


  • Prayers for the family of long time member Jacqueline (Jacque) French who passed away January 7. Let’s hold Cheryl, her granddaughter, and the entire family in our thoughts and prayers. Visit a memorial page for Jacque here.
  • Karen Wittenburg lost her mother, Catherine Boyd on January 22. Catherine was 92. Karen continues treatment for cancer. She is currently at her home and continues to increase her activity.
  • Bert Schmidt – please keep him and Sue Chandler, daughter, in prayer.
  • Bob Buell continues to be in hospice.
  • Please keep the PNC (Pastor Nominating Committee) in prayer as they discern the future of Southminster.

CORPORATE PRAYER | Affirmation of Faith, “Peace and Justice” written by Erica VanEssendelft, Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church

Our Father and Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  We come before you, Lord, crying out in a violent land, crying for peace. Conflict is tearing people apart.  Our brothers and sisters suffer around the world.  We share their pain.  As refugees search for a home in foreign lands, guide them.  As world leaders try to dialogue peacefully, give them wisdom.  As strangers knock on our doors, help us to welcome them.  You are the Almighty, the Prince of Peace! Give us hope for tomorrow.  May your peace flow like a river through a dry land. Amen.

RESPONSIVE HYMN | “God of the Sparrow” by Southminster Choir