Chapter One

In which the liturgy is wrong, again

The beauty of the midsummer morning light shone through the windows. The ushers were at their posts, bulletins in hand, smiles affixed. The soloist had finished her practice, and the organist was organizing his music at the bench. The pews had yet to be filled, but an energy filled the air.  It was Sunday morning.

 

 

“Why is the goddamn liturgy wrong again?” Bill Hill muttered.

His wife elbowed him sharply. “Bill, please, we are in church. Everyone can hear you.”

“No one can hear me because no one is here yet because no one cares about being on time anymore and no one cares about dressing appropriately for the Lord anymore and no one cares about the goddamn liturgy being right anymore!”

“Oh, so does no one care about swearing in church anymore?”

Gladys Hill had the last word, at least for the moment.

William Meriwether Hill did not suffer fools gladly, especially the holy fools who tinkered with his beloved Sunday service. He was of the generation who knew there was a way that things were to be done. It helped keep things in order, so that there were time and resources to tend to all that needed tending to. And on Sunday morning, when he had made the effort to put on his suit and tie, and comb his hair, and make sure he had both a check and some cash for the offering plate, he did not suffer mistakes or any kind of sloppiness, especially when it came to the liturgy which, in Bill’s mind, was like a rope that kept people well tethered to God.

“Look at this, Gladys – we’re singing an Advent hymn in the middle of summer. An Advent hymn, for Chrissakes.”

Another elbow followed.

“I certainly hope that when the new pastor arrives this sort of thing stops happening. I have my doubts, but I’m willing to give her a chance. She’ll never be like Pastor Dale. Now there was a great man, a great pastor. She’ll have a hard time filling his shoes.”

“Yes, I especially loved it when he would lose his place in the sermon and just start all over again.”

“You know as well as I that the dementia had started setting in.”

“True. And while he was a great pastor the man did not walk on water. As for filling his shoes, you know Pastor Claire is a petite thing. And I bet she has plenty of her own shoes.”

“Hmph. Oh for Pete’s sake, who’s the minister today? I’ll be glad when that new pastor gets here. These substitute preachers are a little too woo-woo for my taste.”

“Bill….”

Fortunately for Bill and Gladys, the prelude had begun and the pews were filling and their conversation came to a merciful end.

 

 

The Reverend Doctor Jacqueline – “Jakki” – Smith-Hastings stood as the prelude ended. “Good morning, dearest brothers and sisters in Christ. Fathoms-deep peace be with you this gorgeous morning as we open our yearning hearts and souls to the goodness of our God.”

Bill rolled his eyes.  Gladys’ elbow was poised at the ready.

“Dearest little lambs of the fold, as we begin our worship I must point out a few errors in the bulletin this morning, and on behalf of the entire church staff, I offer my apologies. We are not singing “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” as our opening hymn. Maybe the secretary was having a little fun with you as you anticipate the much-awaited and joyfully-received arrival of your new – and long expected – pastor. This will be my last Sunday with you and I have enjoyed these last four weeks getting to know you, praying with you, singing and dancing with you, exploring the rainbows of grace that God has showered over this sweet little congregation. Now, let us sing the opening hymn which is number four-thirty-three, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise.”

Bill smiled the smile of the smug as Gladys reached for the hymnal.

 
Gladys and both her elbows were busy managing a cup of coffee and a purse when Bill saw the array at coffee hour. “Oh dear God, Alice brought her Prune Drop Cookies again. Where’s the damn coffee? I hope the new pastor will sort Alice and her cookies out. I should probably make an appointment to see her as soon as she arrives.”

Alice Weston’s Prune Drop Cookies were a sight to behold, best kept as a sight and never a taste. They were a non-descript brown, about the size of a half-dollar, and lumpy. They looked like they might have been made out of playdough whose colors had all run together and which had then been shaped by a two-year old. They tasted of cardboard and bad memories.

“Morning, Bill, morning, Gladys! How are you two on this fine day?”

“Good morning, Alice. I’m upright and breathing, so I guess I’m just fine. Say, Alice, might I have a word with you about these cookies?”

“Oh, Bill, I’m afraid I have somewhere else I have to be, and you know I don’t share the recipe with anyone. Bye-bye, dears. See you next week. Have a Prune Drop.”

Alice pecked Gladys on the cheek and flitted off. Gladys looked glumly at the platter of cookies. “I wish someone could keep Alice off the sign-up sheet for coffee hour. Honestly, does she not know that no one ever eats those cookies? At least she makes the coffee right.”

Bill smiled at his wife. There were many reasons why they had stayed married for fifty-seven years, and their mutual dislike of Alice Weston’s Prune Drop Cookies was one of them.

“Gladys, promise me one thing. When I die, and you have my service here at St. Rahab’s, that the bulletin will be perfect, and there will be no Prune Drop Cookies at the reception.”

Gladys smiled back, hooked her arm through Bill’s and said, “Let’s go get lunch and dissect Pastor Jakki’s sermon.”

 
A few blocks away, the Reverend M. Claire Grayson was relishing her last free Sunday. She was surrounded by boxes and newsprint, and the garbage was overflowing with take-out cartons.  Her daughter was still asleep even though it was noon, but Claire felt a deep contentment.  

Then again, maybe it was just the calm before the storm.

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