In which the new pastor has her first Sunday
“Mom. I can’t find my brush.”
“Where did you leave it?”
“If I knew where I left it, then I could find it, couldn’t I. Ugh. Why do I have to go church? I hate the first Sunday. All those people looking at me, trying to decide if I’ll be their kid’s favorite new babysitter or if I’m a Satan-worshipping drug addict who’s secretly pregnant.”
“Emma, I really don’t need this this morning.”
“Oh alright, Morag.”
Emma knew full well that her mother hated her first name and went instead by the lovelier and less Scottish Claire. Emma also knew that her mother never told anyone what the M stood for, and in every church she had ever served, the only one who knew her first name was the person who processed the payroll. Emma secretly hoped that her mother feared she would tell everyone what the M stood for. It was one of her few bargaining chips, but she thought it a pretty good one.
Having her first name disclosed was the last thing on Claire’s mind. She had accepted the call to be pastor of St. Rahab’s six weeks earlier, and the time between had been spent saying good-bye, making apologies, selling a house, buying a house, packing, moving, putting down the eighteen-year-old cat who developed kidney failure two days before the moving van showed up, and crying in her driveway as her best friend drove away after the moving van had left.
Claire and Emma enjoyed their road trip, mostly. Emma kept asking mother if they could rent handguns and do target practice like Thelma and Louise, but Claire told her since they were nowhere near the Grand Canyon, that would not be their story. When Emma got bored or tired or hungry, she would ask her mother why they hadn’t brought the cat with them.
“Honey, the cat died.”
“We couldn’t bring him.”
“Why not? It’s not like he’s going to run out and get hit by a car.”
“Let’s think about this for about five seconds. Dead animal. Hot car. Fifteen hundred miles.”
“Decay. Rot. Purification. Smell. Honda Civic.”
“Jeez, okay, you made your point. You don’t have to get all Night of the Living Dead about it.”
Claire sighed and thought, not for the last time, that single-parenting a fifteen year old was not for the faint of heart. They survived the road trip, Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, and all of Montana.
Emma thought their new house would be okay. Her room was upstairs, in a renovated attic, and she had the whole top floor to herself. The ceilings sloped with the roofline and the floors sloped toward the center of the room. She had windows on three sides, and a decent closet, and a tiny balcony off the west side window. There was a laundry chute which she thought was cool, and a ceiling fan and wall sconces out of the 1940’s. For the life of her, Claire couldn’t figure out why someone would renovate an attic and put wall sconces in a space that was clearly meant to be a bedroom, but it wasn’t her room and if her kid was happy, she was happy.
Claire liked the house fine. What she most liked was that she had found it, could afford it, and that it was close but not too close to the church. She figured she owed Emma something for uprooting her before tenth grade, so she gave her the cool upstairs room and took the smaller bedroom with only one window for herself. The queen bed, the dresser, and the vanity fit.
It wasn’t as though she needed more space. It wasn’t as though she needed a king size bed. It wasn’t as though there was anyone who’d be sharing it with her any time soon. Because nothing scares off a man like “single mom pastor looking for love.”
Claire gave herself the once-over before heading out. At 5’2″ with dark brown hair in a pixie cut, she looked younger than she was, but she thought that more often than not worked to her advantage. She had chosen her favorite dress for her first Sunday, a linen shift in a purply shade of blue that complimented her dark brown eyes. She stuck to safe earrings, the gold posts. With an assessment of “good enough” she gathered her bag and sermon and set out.
The service began at 10:30, and Claire arrived at church at 9:00. As she made her way from the parking lot to the door, an older man came across to her, a set smile on his face.
“Yes, hello! Please remind me of your name.”
“William Meriwhether Hill, but most people call me Bill.”
“Bill, it is good to see you again.”
“So tell me, Pastor Claire, is it your intention to arrive at church at 9:00 on Sunday mornings, or were you running late today?”
“Well, Bill, I hadn’t really given it much thought.”
“Because Pastor Dale would arrive at 7:30 on Sunday mornings, to make sure there was toilet paper in the bathrooms and to start the coffee and to greet people as they came in.”
“That’s odd, because I thought the church had a sexton on staff.”
“Bill Carr? Sure. He’s around on Sunday morning too. But Pastor Dale always double-checked his work.”
“Thank you, Bill, for letting me know your thoughts on this. I’m going to go get ready for church, if that’s okay with you.”
“Certainly. Good luck this morning. We’re all expecting a lot from you.”
“We don’t believe in luck, you know. We believe in God’s providence.”
Bill could practically feel Gladys’s elbow in his ribs.
Claire took in a deep breath. That did not go well. It was certainly not how she wanted to start. Bill Hill, Bill Hill. She couldn’t remember meeting him as part of the interview process. She’d be on the lookout for him. Ten to one, he calls tomorrow to make an appointment to come talk to me, she thought.
She let herself in the office. Standing by the copier was Bill Carr, the church sexton.
“Good morning. You’re Bill, right?”
“Yes ma’am, Reverend Grayson. Welcome officially to St. Rahab’s.”
“Please call me Claire. And thank you. That’s the warmest welcome I’ve had so far today.”
Bill chuckled. “Saw Bill Hill meet you in the parking lot. Don’t mind him. A lot of bark, but very little bite. He knows a bit about the church here. Not everything, but a lot of stuff that will help out the new pastor.”
“So who does know everything?”
Bill Carr was a rangy guy, and Claire couldn’t place his age. He could be forty, he could be sixty. There was a Denzel Washington twinkle in his eyes, and Claire couldn’t tell if it was a friendly twinkle or a mischievous one. But he was clean-shaven, dressed in clothes ready to unclog a toilet or mop up, so already he was light years ahead of her last church sexton. All the same, she hoped she was done with Bills for the day.
Bill Hill noted that the bulletin was perfect, although he did purse his lips when Alice Weston stood up to speak as the prelude ended.
“Good morning, St. Rahabites! Today is a great day in the life of our church as we welcome our sixteenth pastor, the Reverend M. Claire Grayson, and her daughter Emma. Having chaired the search committee, I can say with all honesty and great gusto that Pastor Claire is just what our church needs. She’s young, energetic, but not fresh off the turnip truck, having served two other congregations in Minneapolis and Des Moines. Let’s give her a big St. Rahab’s welcome!”
Claire smiled at Alice. She had felt an immediate connection with the woman, whom she assumed to be the church matriarch. Claire hadn’t sensed any power-hunger in Alice, only a genuine desire to serve God and church. She was grateful for the introduction, although at forty she wasn’t sure she could still be described as young.
“Friends, thank you for that warm welcome. Emma and I are so glad to be here at last, and we look forward to getting to know you and to serving Christ with you as the years unfold. Now let us worship God, and sing the opening hymn.”
The rest of the service went just fine. As the kids came forward for the children’s time, one saw Emma sitting on the front pew all by herself and promptly sat himself on her lap. Emma gave Claire that look, but then put her arm around him and whispered in his ear. The boy smiled and snuggled in.
Claire stumbled over one of the names in the prayer, but no one walked out on the sermon, the soloist was in fine form, and people remembered to wear their name tags, making the handshake line after worship a little easier.
By the time Claire made it to coffee hour, the cookies were gone. Emma made a beeline to her mom. “I saved you some cookies. Shortbread toffee. Your favorite.”
Maybe things would work out here after all.