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Here's Why You Might See Some Christians With Sparkly Crosses This Ash Wednesday

But not everyone agrees with adding sparkle to such a somber occasion.

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Traditionally on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, you see Christians going about their daily routine with a gray smudge in the shape of a cross on their forehead. This year, you may notice some observers with a little extra sparkle.

Parity, a New York-based advocacy group which works to help people reconcile faith and LGBT identity, is mixing traditional ashes with purple glitter this year in a show of solidarity with LGBT Christians — and they're encouraging congregations all over to do the same.

Twitter: @ParityNYC

"Ashes are an in-your-face statement that death and suffering are real," reads the campaign's Facebook page. "The glitter will be a sign of our hope, which does not despair."

The idea originated from a discussion between the executive director of Parity, Rev. Marian Edmons-Allen, and her close friend, episcopal priest and author Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman. They wanted to create more inclusive spaces within the church for the LGBT community.

Twitter: @revshiz

"We got in touch with clergy folks and theologians and pastors from all over the country, and a few outside the country, and just bounced the idea off of them," Edmon-Allen told BuzzFeed News. "Everyone loved it."

Edman, author of Queer Virtue, appeared in the campaign's promotional YouTube video.

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Edmons-Allen and her team not only set up congregations interested in participating with a supply of glitter ash, they also accepted individual requests — free of charge or with a donation.

Facebook: Parity.nyc

To make the glittery ashes, standard church ashes (which come from burned palm branches and are blessed by a minister or priest) were mixed with makeup-quality polyester purple glitter. A little bit of olive oil is the final touch.

According to the group, over 150 sites all over the country (including locations in Texas, California, Ohio, Tenessee, and Arizona, to name a few), initially responded to be involved.

Twitter: @MonteBelmonte

"Everywhere you can think of really, including Canada and the UK," Edmons-Allen said of the scope of participation. "What I keep hearing about is these churches that didn't contact us but instead are doing their own services with glitter ashes — it really took on a life of its own."

The participating congregations' denominations included Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Mennonite, among others.

While Edmons-Allen said she received “just a couple” of emails with negative feedback concerning the campaign, the reaction online has been much more heated: People are debating whether adding such sparkle to a somber occasion sends the right message.

@theologicalmess / Via Twitter: @theologicalmess

"They've been pretty nice about saying, 'Hey, I really don't like what you're doing,'" Edmons-Allen said of her critics. "But then the bloggers, the reaction online, has been more like, 'This is the beginning of end times.' For some folks — I don't know if it's scary for them or what."

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Edmonds-Allen hopes Glitter Ash Wednesday will help people realize that there are in fact many queer people of faith — Christian or otherwise.

Twitter: @queerismatic

"There is a perception out there that when you reach a certain age it becomes this choice of being queer or having faith — that doesn't need to be the case," she explained.

"This has become its own thing,"Edmons-Allen concluded when asked if the event would become an annual tradition. "Next year I think people will be doing this. It captured people's imagination."

Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com.

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