In which Claire reads The List
Emma wasn’t awake yet, but it was only eight o’clock and school hadn’t started yet. It was Claire’s time of tranquility, so why she decided to read Bill Hill’s List before the day had started wasn’t clear to her, although she suspected it might be easier to take while still in her pajamas with a cup of coffee at the ready.
The envelope, sealed shut, was addressed to The Reverend Ms. M. Claire Grayson, Pastor, St. Rahab’s Church. Fair enough. The guy was old school. Probably had Gladys type it for him. She grabbed a knife to slit the envelope open, hoping she wouldn’t want to do the same to her wrists after she read the letter.
Inside was a single sheet of paper – no cover memo, no hand-written note. It read
Procedures for a Successful Pastorate at St. Rahab’s Church
Compiled by William Meriwether Hill
1. The pastor will do the final proofread on all Sunday bulletins to ensure there are no mistakes. The pastor will double check that all hymn numbers are correct.
2. The pastor will follow a standard outline for the order of worship every Sunday. A few times a year the pastor may deviate from this order when there is a special occasion in worship, e.g., the youth lead in worship or the choir sings a cantata in lieu of a sermon.
3. The pastor will not wear Birkenstocks when leading worship (unless a temporary medical condition necessitates this alternative footwear.)
4. The pastor will guide the Fellowship Committee as they oversee the sign up for cookies and other treats at coffee hour.
5. The pastor will supervise the church staff giving input to and receiving input from the Personnel Committee. The pastor will not assume that these people know how to do their jobs and don’t need guidance.
6. The pastor will arrive no later than 1.5 hours before the Sunday worship service begins.
7. The pastor will do a walk-through of the building every other month with the sexton, noting areas of concern with regards to cleanliness, safety, security, and aesthetics.
8. The pastor will make at least ten pastoral calls each month.
9. The pastor will not write opinion pieces in the local paper which might cast St. Rahab’s and/or its members in a bad light.
10. The pastor will use all of her vacation and continuing education time each year, within the twelve-month time period.
Claire poured herself another cup of coffee and grabbed a brownie from the batch Emma made the day before, only to realize there wasn’t enough coffee or chocolate in the world to take on Bill Hill.
Eventually, fully fueled, showered and dressed, she made her way to the office.
“Trystene, I wonder if we might sit down to go over a couple of things.”
“Yes Reverend, I mean Pastor Claire. Did I do something wrong?
“No. I’m just trying to get the lay of the land and I thought ‘who knows more than the church secretary?’”
“Oh, Bill Carr knows way more than me, but I’ll sit down and talk with you.”
“Great. Come on in. So, with our publications – the newsletter and the Sunday bulletin – how do those work?”
“Well, people submit their items, their articles and stuff, or the anthem or announcements for Sunday, and you give me your stuff – prayers and things, and the scripture and the sermon title and the hymns – and I put them all together.”
“And who proofreads?”
“Pastor Dale always trusted me to do the proofreading.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I would like to do the proofreading.”
“Did Bill Hill say something to you? Every so often I get a call from him on a Monday morning and he’s all angry and everything because the bulletin was messed up. I swear, Rev- Pastor Claire, I don’t know what happens between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. The bulletins that get put out those weeks when Bill Hill calls are not the bulletins I did.”
“So maybe it will help us both if I proofread them.”
“Maybe. You could ask Bill Carr about it too.”
“Yeah. He’s sometimes the only one here on a Saturday. Maybe he can explain it.”
“Thank you. I’ll do that. Now another thing: I’ve only been here for two Sundays but it seems to me we have a high number of visitors with us. Is that normal or are people just checking out the new pastor?”
“Well, I’m not much of a church goer but it seems to me we usually get a big number of visitor types.”
“How do we keep track of them?”
“Well, we ask them to sign the pad things, but half of them don’t, and unless one of our folks asks them, they usually just come up to coffee hour and grab a cookie. Sometimes we see them again, sometimes we don’t.”
“I wonder how they hear about us.”
“Beats me. I wish they’d come back more often, though.”
“I do too. Thanks, Trystene. That should do it for now.”
Bill Carr was next on the list. Claire called his cell phone, since no one ever really knew where in the building Bill might be.
“Bill, it’s Claire. I wonder if you might have a few minutes to go over some things.”
“Sure. Is now a good time?”
“As good a time as any. Why don’t I meet you in the sanctuary.”
“Sounds good. See you there.”
The sanctuary of St. Rahab’s church was one of the prettiest Claire had ever seen. It was built in the early 1920’s, a few years after the congregation was founded.
The nave was in a semi-circle, with dark cherry pews that curved. The chancel was a simple platform with a pulpit on one side, a baptismal font on the other, and the communion table in the middle. Three clergy chairs lined the back wall of the chancel, throne-like things with ornately carved arms and legs. The cushions in the center chair were softer than the others; for decades the church had only one pastor who sat in the same chair week after week.
Behind the chancel, on a higher platform, sat the organ and choir loft, with a special side entrance that went to a hallway that led to a staircase that went down to another hallway that led to the choir practice room. The narthex in the back of the church was big enough to hold visitors but not big enough to have coffee hour. Claire put the renovation of that space on her to-do list in twenty years.
The most striking thing about the sanctuary was the stained glass, ten windows altogether. A large rose window was in the front wall behind the choir loft. On each side of the sanctuary were windows with characters from the Bible – the usual four (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, and then, oddly enough, St. Francis, adorned with flora and fauna.
Even more odd was the window in the back of the church, along the wall of the narthex. It was of Rahab, the woman described in the book of Joshua who helped the Israelite spies plan their invasion of the promised land, the person for whom the church was named.
In the center of the window was Rahab herself, with a beautifully painted face and clothes of the medieval era. Behind her was a window with a red cord hanging inside and out. A stack of wheat lay near her feet. Rather than looking pensively out to the side, Rahab looked directly out, and that Claire had the sense that her eyes were following her.
Claire found the window strange, if not a little disturbing. The eyes unsettled her, and the medieval clothing for a woman who lived a few thousand years before Christ just annoyed her. But the bigger mystery was Rahab herself. She had never been canonized by the Catholic church. She was a prostitute and a Gentile. It never appeared that she converted to the religion of the Israelites. At best, she helped the Israelites conquer the Canaanites; at worst she was saving her own neck.
When Claire interviewed with the church there were so many more pressing things to learn that she never asked about the history of the church’s name. Alice Weston would probably know. Bill Hill would too, but Claire was trying to avoid him as much as possible.
“Bill, I’m hoping you can take me on an insider’s tour of the building – you know, all the nooks and crannies, the boiler room, the closet where the Christmas decorations are kept, the water shut-off – that sort of thing.”
“Yes ma’am, but the boiler room?”
“Yes, the boiler room. People sometimes think that clergywomen shouldn’t be bothered with manly mechanical things like boilers and water shut-offs but if there is a crisis on a Sunday morning, I should at least know where to send people.”
“Yes, ma’am. Well, as you know, the sanctuary is the oldest part of the building, and the room just off the front to the left used to be the pastor’s office, and the bathroom in the back was the only bathroom. Downstairs was one great big room where they’d have coffee after church and wedding receptions and Sunday School and all of it.
“They remodeled all of that back in the ‘60’s and added some more bathrooms; it was about the same time they added the education building where the classrooms and fellowship hall and offices are now.”
“What is the downstairs used for mostly now?”
“Oh, over the years different groups have rented the space for their offices; non-profits and little groups. None of the renters stay too long. There aren’t any windows done there, and it gets pretty cold in the winter, and we used to get a lot of water down there when the rains came.”
“The water situation is much better now. ‘Bout ten years ago Bill Hill headed up a program to take care of a lot of the deferred maintenance.”
“The boiler room?”
“I’ll take you there.”
The boiler room made up for the beauty of the sanctuary. It was dark, lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs, and had that oily metallic smell. As Claire walked in, she saw the behemoth boiler to her right, a hulk of machinery with dials and valves that she knew she would never touch in a million years, or when Jesus returned, whichever came first.
“So this is the boiler.”
“When was it put in?”
“Let’s see. I’ve been here since 1985, and it was about twenty-five years old back then, so I’d say 1960.”
“That makes it fifty years old.”
“More or less, yes.”
“And do you happen to know what the average lifespan of a boiler like this is?”
Bill smiled. “About forty years.”
Great, thought Claire. I’ll add that to my to-do list.
“What’s behind that door in the back?”
“That? That leads to the tunnels.”
“Yeah, the tunnels. When the church was first built it was the only building in town that had heat, and we sold heat to houses around us. The tunnels go under the street.”
“Have you ever been down there?”
“When I first started, but it’s mostly cobwebs now. You interested in having a look?”
“Oh, I’m not really dressed for it. Another time.”
The truth was that Claire was more than a little claustrophobic. She promised herself she would never go into those tunnels, not even if the hounds of hell were chasing her. Satan’s best friend she could take. A small dark webby enclosure would do her in.
Bill’s phone rang. “Claire, I need to take this. Can we finish the tour later?”
Later in the afternoon Claire remembered that she had wanted to ask Bill about the bulletins. Next time.