I waited in the church parking lot for Barbara and Bill to return for Barbara’s purse, which she had left in the sanctuary after the service. Well, not left it really–she thought she had lost it, and, after about 10 minutes of turning over pew cushions to find it, she and Bill fled the Ash Wednesday worship–only just beginning–to find it.
I had noticed her searching, had heard the first rumbling of trouble before the quake, when she asked (as if to anyone within earshot), “Where’s my purse?” She was only in the second row. I was in the first, along with the three high school students and one Youth Intern who were leading worship. Several searching turns of the head did not produce the purse, and by the Call To Worship Barbara was in a panic. She stooped to scan the undersides of pews. She darted to the side aisle to pace the length of the sanctuary, back to front, broadcasting a desperate search. And then she was gone, so the contemplative peace of youth reading prayers and smudging ashes could resume as I’d planned it.
The purse showed itself from the opposing front pew shortly after the sanctuary had emptied. I put away the microphones, cleaned up the little dishes that had held our ashes, turned out the lights, and then scooped up the purse and proceeded to the office, where I called Barbara at home. As soon as I announced myself into the phone, she announced, “You have my purse! I’ll be there in 20 minutes!” She hung up instantly.
I drove a worshiper home who lived less than a mile down the street and then returned to the church to wait for Barbara and Bill. The night was warm and clear and quiet, and thoughts or inconvenience or irritation troubled me not at all. I was grateful for an unscripted interlude to stare dumbly at passing cars and sing “Come And Fill Our Hearts” to the moon. I was sad when it ended, when searching headlights found me and made straight for me.
I heard the tale then of the confusion surrounding the purse’s disappearance and of how Barabara and Bill had retraced the evening’s steps, from Target to Burger King, and had eventually used Bill’s phone to call and disable Barbara’s cell phone. They were moments from calling the bank about her credit cards when they got my call. Barbara was apologetic. She regretted the disruption to the service. I assured her it was no disruption (which was true; hadn’t the service continued anyway? Can worship be so easily derailed?). Then I excused myself, wished them a good night, and climbed back into my car as Barbara exhorted me to go home and play with my daughter.
“I will,” I said. Then, through the closed passenger side window, I added, “She wants me to bring her home some ashes.” There was an uncovered dish of them right there in the cup holder.
“Ahes!” Barbara exclaimed, testifying to just how far away from the night’s occasion she had chased her purse. “We didn’t get any of those.”
It was the most reflexive thing I have ever done to grab the dish in my right hand, open the driver side door with my left, and round the trunk to stand at Barbara’s window. She hadn’t noticed my approach and only saw my when she turned around to begin backing out of her parking space. When she did, she quietly rolled down the window and lowered her head in observation. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Then Bill leaned over from the passenger seat and received his ashes and his incantation.
“Have a good night,” I said and once again returned to my car.
“You too,” Barbara answered. And then, “We love you.”
“I love you too” I shouted as they backed away, staring forward across the church lawn through a streaky windshield. I paused one more moment to listen, then drove home in silence.
Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a recurring post that examines personal and pastoral events of Sunday.
6:00. Alarm. Grab phone to turn it off and discover text sent at 11:30 last night. It’s from the college student youth leader who had agreed to lead jr. highs today in my absence, and it reads, “Is it too late to cancel? I feel like I’m not adequately prepared to lead it.”
6:01. I’m up.
6:14. Putting on a big pot of oatmeal for the family’s breakfast.
6:37. Putting together a junior high youth group lesson with specific instructions. Clearly the “you-could-do-this-or-you-could-do-that” method of planning has failed.
6:41. Doing that thing I despise in youth curriculum writing: proposing “discuss” as a meaningful path to learning for adolescents.
6:53. I don’t know about you guys, but I love oatmeal with raisins and chopped apples.
7:12. Looking over Head of Staff’s “Communion At The Improv” liturgy, an attempt to inject some improvisation into worship on Jazz Sunday by making the communion litany up as we go. How hard can that be?
7:39. Strapping on my favorite shoes and heading out the door.
8:12. Using a Google Drive Presentation to do announcement slides at the beginning of worship. Want to see it?
8:48. Checking in on adult education class about the PC(USA) 2008 social creed. All systems go.
8:51. Checking in on adult education class about a compassion-themed TED Talk. All systems go.
8:53. Checking in on youth Sunday School class. No, not really. That’s a well-oiled machine; my checking in only jams the gears.
8:55. Checking in on nursery volunteers. All infants go.
8:56. Considering the evolution of my job that finds me now the default Sunday School Superintendent.
8:59. Walking 9th grade a/v volunteer through the projection system. He’s never run it before but seems confident. Don’t even think twice about giving him my computer password.
9:07. Settle into that TED talk class with a cup of coffee the leader has brewed. She’s magic. As the video of Joan Halifax begins, the man next to me (a seminary professor) mutters under his breath, “Oh Joan, who dressed you?”
9:26. Sneaking out after the video to spend some time in the other class. Also, my coffee cup is empty.
9:33. Spy the 9th grade a/v volunteer making his way to the sanctuary as instructed. Also spy his two friends making their way with him, as not instructed.
9:40. Being scolded by the guest jazz group’s piano player for placing our projector on top of the organ. “This is a $30,000 instrument!” he says. “I know, right? Isn’t it amazing?”
9:44. There’s a lone Deacon struggling with communion preparation. I offer to go find another, and she falls to the floor in tears of gratitude. Done.
10:08. Worship has begun and the mic’s aren’t working. Sneak off the chancel to go consult with 9th grade a/v volunteer. These kids are so inexperienced and they pay so little attention to what’s goi–wait. What’s that? Oh, you say I never turned my mic on? Right. Got it. As you were.
10:10. Return to the chancel with the opening hymn in full swing. Not only that, but worshipers have begun skipping down the aisles.
10:12. As the opening hymn is ending, make my way to the pulpit to lead the Prayer of Confession. Only, since this is Jazz Sunday, hymns don’t end when you think they will. Stand next to the pulpit like a dummy for the five additional verses of “I Shall Not Be Moved.”
10:19. Trying to explain communion for the Time with The Children by having the coronet player from the jazz band play something. He chooses a horse race bugle call. Perfect. How will the kids understand sacramentology now?
10:46. The moment of communion improv is here, and I’m not exactly killing it. More like turning The Lord’s Supper into The Lord’s Mutter.
11:19. Elder approaches me on the patio after worship with six words of terror: “I think you should see this.”
11:21. Looking at a pool of water bubbling up from the ground near the fellowship hall. Smelling sewage. Looking for the Head of Staff.
12:14. Confirmation class lesson on “Reformed-and-always-reforming” jumps directly to a student asking me, “So can you do a same-sex wedding?”
1:31. Driving about 40 miles to a meeting of this summer’s presbytery youth mission trip team. En route, hearing a description from a student’s dad of the kind of portable bathroom you have to take with you on a six day canoe trip, how to assemble it, and, of course, how to USE it.
2:14. Seeing students from other churches I know from past events but whose names I’ve forgotten. Greeting them with, “Heyyy, youuuu.”
3:00. For a team building game, my colleague has chosen charades, and the phrase he’s picked is, “Going to the bathroom on the bus.” Decide pretty easily that the price of winning this game is much higher than the price of accurately depicting going to the bathroom to an 8th grade girl.
3:58. On the drive home, student’s dad is trying to explain a math riddle I should do with the students. It involves toothpicks and Roman numerals and OH MY GOD I’M EXHAUSTED.
4:38. Students arriving for jr. high youth group. Even though I made it back in time, I still want the college student to lead. He’s prepped. He’s ready.
4:44. Two boys pummeling each other with pool noodles. Gently cajoling them to stop doesn’t work. Firmly instructing them to stop doesn’t work. Yelling at them to stop doesn’t work. I hate my life.
4:45. Threatening to call parents. Over pool noodles.
5:01. Playing a hide-and-seek game in the sanctuary. I’m volunteering to hide in the hopes that I will never, ever, be found.
5:22. Polling jr. high kids on rules they live by. One student insists on utilizing a hashtag, calling out, “Live life to the fullest! Hashtag!” Accommodate him by writing on the board, “Live life to the fullest hashtag.”
6:23. Running to the store across the street to get food for the high school youth group. Returning with macaroons, cheese, crackers, cookies, and soda. Never shop for youth group snacks when you’re hungry and tired.
7:02. Volunteer arrives for high school youth group with dinner for me: beans, slaw, and a tri tip he made earlier in the day. I love my life.
7:38. Playing The Game of Things with high schoolers. Hamster cancer promptly returns as a hilarious answer.
7:44. Game of Things prompt: “things old people should never do.” Some submitted, “Be a youth pastor” for an answer. Ouch.
8:44. My plan to assemble the Ash Wednesday liturgy with students has run aground on their fatigue and mine. Tongues lolling at the phrase, “penitence.”
8:55. On his father’s orders, student assembles the math riddle with the toothpicks and Roman numerals. Students suddenly come alive trying to solve it.
9:15. Home before Wife and Daughter, who went to an Oscar party. I will most certainly be asleep before they get home.
Note: Monday Morning Quarterback is a recurring post that examines personal and pastoral events of Sunday.
My colleague experimented in worship today. She praised the Apostle Paul’s concise statement of the gospel–”I resolved to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified”–and urged worshipers to work out their own summary of the good news using seven words or less.
Several congregants had been invited to share theirs:
“Christ’s love empowers people to do justice.”
“God’s gracious love is for you always.”
“Do no harm, take no shit.”
And mine: “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.”
The rest of the day, then, played out in seven-words-or-less episodes.
The confirmation class about the village of Chambon: “Jesus said, ‘feed the hungry.’ We did.”
The afternoon at home spent prepping food for the week’s meals: “Who knew celery root peeled so easily?”
The drive to youth groups: “Joey if you’re hurtin’ so am I.”
The junior high youth group: “We’ve wasted thirty minutes on Bible study!”
The high school youth group: “If you’re dating you must be kissing.”
[bonus high school youth group: "If you're kissing you're not necessarily dating."]
Dropping student off, hearing about his role in the school choir’s “The Little Mermaid” concert: “Ariels aplenty; I’m the only Prince Eric.”
Driving home: “Oh, oh Joey I’m not angry anymore.”
Writing Monday Morning Quarterback: “How to align Youtube embed on left?”
Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown offer a definition of the Mainline Tradition in their book, “Religion And Politics In The United States” :
“Stressing Jesus’ role as prophet of social justice, the Mainline Tradition sanctifies altruism and regards selfishness as the cardinal sin. In this tradition, which extends membership to all and understands religious duty in terms of sharing abundance, the Bible is treated as a book with deep truths that have to be discerned amidst myth and archaic stories. “
So my question to those who identity with the” Mainline”: does this sound like what you’re into?
View on Path