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The art of ash making

Making ashes isn’t as easy you might think.

“There is quite an art to it,” according to Mike Gerken, who co-owns Gerken’s Religious Supplies with his brother.

“To get the good ash, you can’t just burn them. You have to let them smolder with no oxygen, and that’s where it gets the real charcoal black.”

Gerken’s Religious Supplies sells ashes to hundreds of parishes in Colorado and beyond, as does John Erger Co, a religious supply company in Lakewood. Both use Palm Gardens in Alamo, Texas, as their supplier for Ash Wednesday ashes, as well as for palms for Palm Sunday.

Gerken said that he’s seen ashes from other suppliers that are more of a gray, and not as fine but that they prefer the ashes from Palm Gardens, with whom they have a 50-year relationship.

“The ones we get from Palm Gardens are almost like a talc, like a baby powder, and they stick really good,” he said.

Grey works, too

When it comes to do-it-yourself palm burning, John Miller, the director of the liturgy office for the Archdiocese of Denver, knows a thing or two. He was tasked with the job of burning about 100 palms a year for the Cathedral of Saints Simon and Jude in Phoenix, Az.

“I’ve always just used the gray ash,” he admitted.

“We would basically take all of the leftover palms, put them in an outdoor fire pit you buy at Lowe’s, and from there we would just scrape out the bits and chunks of what didn’t burn,” he explained. “It was a very fine, gray ash.”

He said the process worked for what he needed, which was enough ashes for about 2,500 people.

“It was a lot of fun,” he added. “But, it was a mess.”

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