Monday, July 24, 2006

deacon on duty

a glorious chicago morning.
the sky above michigan avenue is the blue of a robin's egg. the breeze from the lake brushes my face. i'm rushing across the avenue, the yellow cabs at the red light impatient to speed southward, through the front door, fussing with my magnetic deacon's badge, the click of my heels snapping across the flagstones. the usher at the narthex door smiles, handing me my program. her eyes flick to my nametag and she says my name.

through the door, a brisk walk down the center aisle. no hiding off to the side and back for me. other deacons at their stations give little waves. i stop to say to the deacon board co-moderators, two nice guys (who seem to live at the church), and then i slip into my row, hoping i don't get boxed in when i have to leave early to get to my church tour position at the narthex when service ends.

the organ begins to tune. then, bach.
we're in the middle of our responsive psalm reading. (i'm still amazed that they have to print the page numbers of bible books in the program. who doesn't know where to find psalms?)
one of the pastors from the presbytery is reading swiftly. we read just as swiftly.

he reads, "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand."
then he stops.
a long silence ensues: congregation waiting patiently for visiting pastor to realize he has half a verse more. pastor just as patiently wondering why the congregation has fallen silent. congregation now stubbornly determined to wait out the pastor. pastor still befuddled. the silence grows uncomfortably long. i'm fascinated at the standoff.

then the men's choir up above softly prompt, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness" and we, the congregation, gratefully read our part. the service rolls serenely on.
the lights are dim as the guest pastor gives the installation sermon for our new associate pastor A-. we've all finally deciphered his twangy tennessee accent. (like how it takes a few minutes to unravel a northern england accent in a film.) he's in the middle of an anecdote about successful pastors who engage the heart and mind.

a man writes a letter to john wesley saying, 'dear dr. wesley, God don't need your book-learnin'.' to which john wesley writes: 'my dear sir, God may have no need of my book-learning, but neither does he need your ignorance.'

i am the only one to laugh out loud.
the offetory hymn, a slow, swelling, majestic song, is one of my favorites ('sovereign lord, creator, righteous one', gustave holst, arr. mary mcdonald). the men's choir sways gently, stretching their mouths to sing the words; some of them have their eyes closed and there is pleasure on their faces. just as it ends, the asian man on the bottom row looks up at the grizzled tenor standing above him and they exchange a nod and smile proudly.

i want them to sing it again. then instantly think i want this sung either at my wedding or my funeral, whichever comes first. then think, what wedding??
all the ordained officers huddle at the chancel laying our hands on our new associate pastor A-. the man's suited shoulder in front of me is padded. whoever is touching mine is weaving just slightly on their feet and every so often they firm up their grip on my shoulder to steady themselves.

i drift in and out of the prayer aware that i need to pull up my pants.
leading the church tour, trying frantically to remember the names of the figures on the stained glass, what the frog represents on the chancel, and who makes the tapestries for the sanctuary.

but i get the japanese story right. one day i'll remember what the frog means.

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