‘Can You Wear Checked Socks on Ash Wednesday?’ ‘Can You Eat a Leftover Paczki the Day After?’ Should a Waltherian Boy from Iowa Get Ashed and Other Questions of Christian Freedom. by Pastor Rossow

A PaczkiWhen I was getting dressed this morning I started to pull out a pair of subtly checked (black and gray) socks to wear and then the question hit me – can you wear checked socks on Ash Wednesday or should they be all black? When you are a liturgical pastor who wears a black clerical everyday, the choice of socks is about the only opportunity you have to express any clothing style. (I do have some brown pants, some two-toned brown and black shoes and God forbid, even a gray clerical that I don about once a month, not all at the same time though because even a simpleton from Iowa knows that brown and grey don’t go together.)

I decided to live boldly in my Christian freedom and wear the subtly checked socks. I took Christian freedom to new heights a few hours later when I spotted half of a day old paczki in the staff work room. (A paczcki – pronounced ‘punchkey’ – is a Polish bismark with extra rich jellies and creams inside eaten on Fat Tuesday.) I devoured it! All of this I did even though I am a simple Waltherian who grew up in rural Iowa District West. (Had I grown up in Iowa East, which is becoming more liturgical by the day – I may not be facing such ashen anxiety and pressing issues of Christian freedom.)

I figured all these bold acts of freedom were acceptable because after all, I will get ashed twice today. The first time was earlier this morning at our AM service and the second will be at this evening’s service. I have grown accustomed to being ashed, if you actually can grow accustomed to being reminded that dust you are and to dust you shall return. It was not easy at first though. I did not even know that Lutherans used ashes on Ash Wednesday until I got my call here to the Chicago suburbs nearly twenty years ago. (In Iowa District West we just called it “Ash Wednesday.” We couldn’t imagine that it might actually involve real ashes on real foreheads.)

I am now a thorough-going liturgy guy. We even encourage people to give something up for Lent. It is a good practice and good spiritual discipline if done with the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. In today’s sermon however, I encouraged people to add something for Lent. I preached on the Ash Wednesday epistle (II Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10) and after reading the list of attacks that St. Paul endured in his spiritual warfare with the devil (afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, slander, dying, sorrow and poverty) it made the notion of giving up my favorite TV show for Lent seem a little silly so I invited people to not only give something up but also to add something in Lent, something from Paul’s other list in this text: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness or genuine love.

It has taken a while for this simple Waltherian from Iowa West to know and practice the liturgy and I still have a long ways to go but I will travel that path willingly and enjoying the fuller use of my eyes, ears and all my senses (we are getting closer to using incense but are not quite there yet) in the Divine Service.

I’m thinking that paczki needs a little coffee to keep it company. I think I’ll quit this post while I am behind. Can you use cream in your coffee on Ash Wednesday?

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


‘Can You Wear Checked Socks on Ash Wednesday?’ ‘Can You Eat a Leftover Paczki the Day After?’ Should a Waltherian Boy from Iowa Get Ashed and Other Questions of Christian Freedom. by Pastor Rossow — 31 Comments

  1. Enjoyed your blog!

    But -It is not pronounced Punch-key. It is more like Pawn-chkee. Ask my Polish Catholic Mom-in-law. We enjoyed her homemade treats on Saturday last.

    And yes to the cream – but not that fake powdery stuff!

  2. Thank you for your suggestion of giving. I know just the person I will try to show more patience, kindness and genuine love to these next 40 days. It may be harder than giving up sweets though! :-0

  3. Not even sure I should write this…

    I continue to follow the fasts of my Orthodox days, not because I have to, I did not then either, but because it does discipline me. And if I slip up, which I frequently do, I will be reminded that I can’t save myself by my own power or will, that it is Christ who saves not my efforts.

    I have added a mental task, I just began The Two Natures in Christ, the Chemnitz version and not the arch book version. Although I may wish I was reading the arch book version…

  4. Thank you, Pastor. I know that some of your comments were tongue in cheek. That, of course, is also a good place for even a leftover paczcki! I had similar thoughts after some of us out here in Iowa District East prayed the Great Litany this morning. Those were serious prayers for people in serious situations. My own thoughts about refraining from junk food or TV programs paled in comparison. Not even in the same ballpark. I find that even in considerations for my own penance, I am a beggar.

  5. I am shocked–SHOCKED–that you would write such a thing. Where is your decency?! You actually ate a day old pazcki? Bleccchhhh!

  6. Elaine,

    The ones at the market over-by-der by your house are yucky. I had one that Pam brought into the office from further east (Downers Grove) with real strawberries in it.

  7. Pr. Rossow, I am worried that you are going modernist on us with your existential tale of polish pastry eating. Hopefully you will avoid joining a small doughnut eating group, or wind up speaking in tongues from a jellied, sugary, high.


  8. I can see a future post from the associate editor… “BJS Editor speaks in tongues” – Don’t worry, I will cite you the Schmalkald Articles in a very loving manner.

    BTW. I think your footwear can also be some of your personal choice as a clerical wearing pastor. My children gave me these for last father’s day and I wear them everyday:


    And if you were in a district like Wyoming, you could do so along with a cowboy hat of some sort. Although we don’t have polish pastries – but lots of antelope – and antelope make for good bacon.

  9. @Eric Ramer #13

    Perhaps I should offer a spiritualized meaning for my imprecise (aka “very sloppy”) wording, and thereby dodge any further trouble? 😉

    Edit: After a little thought I will go with a spiritualized meaning. Yes, it is a spiritual eating I am speaking of… eating of small donought holes, symbolic of pastry fillings of all types, at conventicles.

  10. I’ve come full circle. I learned at seminary that some Lutherans actually impose ashes on Ash Wednesday, then I did it myself a few times, but never really felt right about it — it seemed ironic to read Matthew 6:17 during the same service… I no longer impose ashes and have found I agree with Pastor Cwirla: “I guess you could say one reason we don’t do ashes on Ash Wednesday is that we’re not into contemporary worship around here. But there are better reasons.”


  11. Pr. Crandall,
    I rather doubt that many of us are fasting around here, although I don’t ask or tell, so the two won’t come together. (Except that my supper has been postponed to after the 6 p.m. service.)

    [Somebody must be giving up sweets for Lent because a meeting I was not involved in had donuts enough left over to feed the rest of us this morning. “Jelly donuts” are a so-so bismarck.] 🙂

    Cowboy hat with loafers, Pr. Scheer? ;|
    Down here, boots are often worn with clericals.
    (Saves deciding about the socks; we never see them.)

    I had coffee black this afternoon, a mistake. Rather, forget the coffee, too.

  12. I wanted to highlight just how stylish and modernly relevant Pastor Rossow is. GQ magazine says that ties and socks are really the only opportunity for a man to spice up his wardrobe and considering Pastor’s tie is already spoken for…

    Now, for Holy Week, we are expecting shades of bright red, orange, and perhaps a lavender on Easter morning. Subtle checks are fine but I say lets encourage him to let his fashion sense run wild.

  13. Paul,

    You are one styling dude. I am going to give your suggestion a lot of thought. I think I may need to make a trip to the Johnston and Murphy Outlet in Aurora (J & M at half off!) to look for some fancy socks.

    BTW – If I were ever to go shopping with a guy, and let me just say for the record, to be clear, I will never go shopping with a guy, but if I were to, you would be on the short list. 🙂 (Further clarification for Eric – “the short list” doesn’t mean I am making a list of short people with which to go shopping.)

  14. Pastor Rossow,

    I have two words for you: Weight Watchers! 🙂

    Remember, I am now three fourths the man I used to be (and my wife still lays out my clothes for me every morning, including socks)!!

    Your old buddy Clint

  15. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #18
    @helen #17 first time I have heard my boots referred to as loafers, but compared to what I used to wear, it is true.

    I was looking at the socks picture, which I take to be Pr. Rossow’s socks and loafers?

  16. I can’t be sure, but is that dirt on those dress shoes? My mother-in-law- would have a fit if she came up for Holy Communion and saw dirt on your shoes. And, from the picture, the left sock is a bit sagging like they might be an old pair of socks. Perhaps we need to take up a collection for some plain, black socks. I was thinking of some men’s luxury Sea Island socks for you Pastor Rossow. Sea Island fibers are naturally more lustrous and won’t cause skin irritations. They have a slightly greater bulk, are somewhat softer, and have a smoother surface. C’mon, there are only $49 a pair. Pony up the money big fella! Perhaps you need better socks than these? How about Marcoliani Men’s Luxury Cashmere/Silk Windowpane Socks for $79? I am sure your Ladies Aid Group could swing $79 🙂

  17. Walter,

    I get a little nervous when people use the phrase “slightly greater bulk” in any form or manner connected with me because I am still working to look like the new Pastor Poppe.

    Hmmm, $49 a pair. If they have them at the Johnston and Murphy Outlet they would only be $25 a pair. I’ll take a peek next time I am there.

    BTW – My wife agrees with your mother-in-law. As a matter of fact my mother-in-law agrees with your mother-in-law, even my worship instructor (the sainted Wayne Schmidt) agrees with your mother-in-law but so far they all have failed to move me to that same point.

  18. The nice thing about being a Lutheran is that we can Lutheranize many customs. As Pastor Rossow pointed out, as long as we distinguish between Law and Gospel, we are alright with the practice.

    Although I understand why many good Lutheran have this practice (as they understand it according to repentance and forgiveness), here is why I personally am not a fan of having ashes put on my forehead. Well, first here are what my reasons are NOT:

    NOT 1) That it’s too Catholic
    2) That I’m low church
    3) That people who do it are just pietists who want to show off how pious they are.
    4) That I’m an Antinomean.

    Now, here are the real reasons I personally don’t prefer it:
    1) When I go up to the altar, I expect to receive a means of grace
    2) I’m not in public penance.
    3) I’m a Midwestern Norwegian Lutheran

    If we see the imposition of ashes as only preparatory for the Absolution, I really think it’s a good idea. I think it would be an awesome practice if we were all given a damp cloth at some point (maybe during the imposition of ashes), then at Absolution, we all wipe our foreheads with the damp cloth.

    But anyway, that’s just my take on it. I don’t oppose anyone for doing it; if I did that, I would be opposing many many good solid confessional Lutherans. One other benefit I can see of it is that although we are not in public penance, it is good to show the antagonistic secular world that we actually do believe that we are sinners, and yes, we believe that sin exists.

    I really like the idea of adding something for Lent. I always enjoyed having that extra service during the week where we would concentrate on a portion of the catechism.

  19. Whatever your socks (or not) or your liturgical attire (or “getup,” in Texas), just don’t end up being seen here.

  20. Pastor Rossow,
    Everytime I see the title of this post I want to say, in my best teacher voice, “I don’t know, can you?” I have never responded that way to any of my students, but felt the urge to say it here. 🙂

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