Monday, January 17, 2011

I arrived too early and sat in the car for ten minutes. I noticed that one quarter of the parking lot wasn't even plowed. It wasn't needed.

I waited, all the while resisting the temptation to simply return home. With Sunday School occurring before the morning service, most were already inside. Only a few cars trickled in after mine. I couldn't get lost, entering with a stream. There was no stream. And I felt underdressed.

But I grabbed my NIV for balance and walked in with the air of one who does every week. Because I do. I knew the greeter. I saw the Bible study leader and the pastor was quitting his chamber. There was sort of a bottleneck in the hallway. I felt like I was pushing people to get through, embarrassed at being recognized so quickly.

In the Hall, I encountered two other women whom I knew. One was stuffing a couple of small, chocolate cupcakes into her mouth. She acted hungry and rushed. She said she had taught this morning, so maybe she left home without breakfast. As we talked, the Hall lights dimmed aggressively and then remained off. No one budged or even batted an eye. They knew what the signal meant, of course, but they would not be pressed. I was the one who reacted, asking my companions whether they would enter and they agreed. But they took their usual seats and I found one next to another lady I knew, behind a couple of other ladies I knew.

This first lady chatted with me quite a bit about her week. I'm not used to conversing before a church service so I smiled and nodded and said nothing as politely as possible. With the Christmas trees still crowding the raised platform in the sanctuary, the pastor's chair was absent and the man sat in the pews. A choir of eight people, four men and four women, shared the platform with a grand piano. They did not wear robes and sang well for their size. I knew half of them. The woman who played violin played so beautifully for God.

The woman who I intended to visit with arrived a few minutes after the service started. But her seat was available. Late last year, the church dropped from two to one Sunday service. In the past, I might attend the earlier service hoping to catch my friend only to discover she'd waited 'til later. That wasn't going to happen this morning. We sang three songs as projected on the overhead screens. The receipt bulletin has very little in it anymore. But under the date was the line "Walk in the Light," which I recognized immediately as coming from John's first epistle1.
How convenient, a sermon on 1 John 1.
The choir performed a nice song after an elder offered a wonderful prayer but the sound of folks ruffling around for their offering marred the moment. There was supposed to be a double baptism but the children were sick. In general, there was a lot more commotion and unrest in the sanctuary than I remember in the past but no where near approaching the freedom of a Catholic service. When we sang, I was grounded by the voice of the man behind me who sang so well.

The children were dismissed and the 45 minute sermon on a few verses from 1 John 1 began. He quoted C. S. Lewis four times which suited me fine. He even quoted from his collected letters. He related a short story from H. G. Wells2 in great detail. I could have done without that because I was sure the blind people were church folks.

There was no recitation of the Creed, no confession of sin, no intercessory prayer and no holy communion. The lady I intended to visit noticed me as everyone left and talked with me for a good ten or fifteen minutes. She expressed suspicion that I had really intended to visit her. Yes, it's true but I had to hold that hope loosely because I'd been disappointed in that effort before. She updated me on the state of her illness and then she offered to escort me on a tour of the new sanctuary under construction. I had yet to step inside there, not from want of trying. But I was pleased that she took the opportunity.

It's very nice in there but I won't take pictures until it's done. There's a choir loft and mostly clear glass in the many side windows. The rose window is stained glass. I didn't see any overhead screens. My guide pointed out that the pews have cushioned seats and backs which reminded me of St. Mary's in Colts Neck. I visited there for the first time on Friday afternoon and their pews are that way. Very comfortable. These were now covered in plastic tarp but she said they all sat in them for the vision dinner. She wondered whether she'd ever get to sit in them again. She probably isn't the only one to wonder. The laminate floor was buckled in a few places.

Considering how the service has changed over the ten years that I've been visiting, I would like to know how it will be arranged to complement the new worship space. The new sanctuary isn't stuffy-formal but it is more elaborate than the present space. Will they still be singing the inane praise songs after they move in? Today, the hymnal went unused in every pew.

I was invited by the pastor's wife to join their choir. When I declined with the excuse that I don't sing well, she thought I was claiming to be too busy. There are seasons in life, I know. You have young children now. There's that, too. And, in fact, they missed me. Jeff said they were very quiet when I was gone but I discovered that the younger ones had taken every single stuffed animal out of Ella's bedroom closet ... and there are alot of stuffed animals in there. Very upsetting to come home to that. A clear message that they don't like it when I'm out.

1 I'm studying First John at the Community Bible Study on Thursdays and we covered chapter 1 last week.
2 "The Country of the Blind" - Wiki

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