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© Claire Blackstock

Witness to the dark

Ashes in the streets

Here’s how our new tradition got started. Back in 2009, at the urging of the diocesan office where the young priest Bertie Pearson was working, Episcopal churches in San Francisco’s Mission District met to discuss possible joint projects. Bertie had pink cheeks and a sweet, pale face with swept-back, jet-black hair; in his formal black clericals he looked like a choirboy dressed up as Johnny Cash. A former DJ and drummer in the Mission music scene, Bertie was completely respectful of tradition, a real believer and still a punk at heart—a punk for God.

Bertie’s mentor at Church of the Advent had suggested creating an outdoor processional liturgy as “a public act of repentance” for homelessness and street violence and holding it on Good Friday. “You know, the Anglo-Catholics love processions,” Bertie said. “So folks from Advent, St. John’s, Holy Innocents and St. Gregory’s, and I think the Franciscans, did that 2009 Good Friday walk.”


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