Wednesday it did not matter if shoes a person wore were shined or covered in dust from work. It did not matter if the church a person went into had a huge steeple or simple roof.
Ash Wednesday is the same for all. It is the beginning of Lent the world over, the beginning of the season of repentance for billions, and it starts the same everywhere for each person: With ashes on a forehead, and a simple lesson of giving to others before giving to yourself.
This message knows no denomination. At St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Fort Mill, one of the fastest-growing parishes in the Carolinas, the Rev. Joseph Pearce called Ash Wednesday "the most important day of the year."
He did so because the day is about service to others, not just Wednesday but all days. Which is what religion is all about, anyway.
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And another thing - don't seek congratulations for doing good deeds, either. A priest reminded people that giving should be done in secret, quietly and not for reward. Just do it because it is the right thing to do.
Pearce and several lay ministers gave more than 500 people ashes on their foreheads during that huge Mass, including to a guy who sat all alone in the very back row. He is 47 years old, an immigrant from the Philippines, named Jonas Paquio. He is about 5 feet 2 inches tall and his face and hands say without words, "work."
Paquio showed the greatness of this area of the country and world and this religious day: He comes from a huge Christian country in Asia, has a Spanish surname because of the Philippines' colonial past, and speaks perfect English while living in South Carolina in America.
Paquio prayed and got his ashes and left quickly because he had to go back to work as an electrician.
"Today is the start of Lent, important for all of us to serve others," he said.
Paquio was in line to get ashes right in front of U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, the congressman who is one of only 535 congressmen in the whole country of 300-plus million people. Yet that's what Ash Wednesday is - all are the same, the world over, in line to get ashes. Mulvaney sang the same songs and sat on a simple chair like Paquio. Congressmen and electricians from the Philippines are equals on Ash Wednesday.
Many Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other Protestant churches hold Ash Wednesday services. It is another reminder that names matter little when the God is the same for all Christians.
Pearce, the St. Philip Neri priest, urged each person to go out into the day with those ashes on foreheads to show all how, "you will make an impact today and in the future."
About an hour after the Catholic service ended, another one started in Rock Hill at a small church so close to the railroad tracks in the old Industrial Mill village that the train whistle boomed through the doors.
The young pastor at Bethel United Methodist Church, the Rev. Josh McClendon, not yet 30, didn't care about trains or noises. He cared about the 15 people assembled there for services.
And he so believes in welcoming any person of any religion or race or status or anything else into his church that the doors remained open even as the train rolled by. A sign language translator signed the sermon for a deaf man, right in the middle of it all. The deaf man had handed out the tiny service notes to each person, with a huge smile.
This is a church that has a Thursday soup kitchen and every day homeless shelter that run on donations. Rooms in the church and an adjacent building are filled, then emptied, then filled again, with everything from food to toothbrushes. All of it is given away for free. Bethel does not talk about helping the broke and broken, the vagabonds among us - Bethel's people feed and clothe and shelter as many as come in.
Ash Wednesday - serving others always, for no reward other than Christ - is a way of life at Bethel.
McClendon started prayer at noon on the dot, then launched into a homily that he called a "brief message." McClendon minced no words to those 15 people, saying, "Ask yourself, 'What can I do for someone?' "
Then McClendon had the people in the church come to the altar for the ashes. Those who could kneel, kneeled. Those who could not, stood. He offered an alternative to ashes on the forehead, too: "Nitty, gritty and dirty in the palms of your hands," he said. "That's what it will take. Getting nitty gritty and dirty to help someone."
Many of the people received ashes on the forehead, too.
Then McClendon said it was time for passing of the peace - hugs all around. He hugged all 15 people. They all hugged each other. That small church with 16 people in it was so filled with love it seemed like a giant arena.
When it was over, Peggy Reid, one of them, said she had to go back to work in an office.
"But I always have time for God today, and to serve others," she said. "I will proudly wear these ashes ... And carry the message in my life."
Ash Wednesday around the world, people got their ashes and proudly went out into the world as soldiers for good. Big churches and small, Catholic and Protestant, all did the same thing.
Another lady, Linda King, left the Bethel service to go down to the soup kitchen.
"To make tea and lemonade for the people who need it Thursday," she said.
Last seen, King was walking down the slope to the soup kitchen, where there is a picture on the wall that shows a saying: "Give us today our daily bread - Matthew 6:11."
Underneath is picture of a loaf of Sunbeam Bread, a king-sized loaf, half-gone to the hungry, in the golden collection bowl.