Friday, December 30, 2016

It's different everywhere and at this place communion happens on the first Sunday of the month. They wanted to wear the old robes for Advent and break out the new robes in the new year. I selected an unspoken-for robe, its plastic hanger not bearing a choir member's name, and it felt so snug, probably a youth's size. A shorter woman asked me whether hers, which was sweeping the floor, looked too oversized and I almost said, "Yes, let's swap!"

The fill-in pastor introduced herself to me yet again, asking me my name.

The choir box seats twelve comfortably. We had five altos, two tenors and four sopranos. The sopranos, however, believe that they reserve half of the choir box. Already they'd lost a seat to me, as I sat next to them in the upper row. The two sopranos in front, a mother / daughter team (or grandmother / granddaughter), refused to move down when asked. They weren't doing much to dispel the "diva" stereotype1.

The church filled up more than the previous Sunday evening, the Community Thanksgiving Service which eight people attended. I noticed that our choir director acts more like an MC, or rather more properly, like a cantor. For example, he called the pastor's attention when she inadvertently skipped the "Call to Worship" portion of the service. She thanked him and said, "What would I do without you?"

It seems intentional that so many adults volunteer to help with children's church rather than endure the sermon. The two sopranos, too, who refused to slide down, went out with the children. But they were simply slipping out early. The pastor includes so many quotations in her sermons; I feel she's trying to impress through namedropping. She mentions Henri Nouwen a great deal.

I did my best to keep on top of the service, especially when it was time to sing. Relative to the overall time spent at worship, we did precious little singing. And communion was tacked on, too. I had a side view of that Christian ordinance for the first time. She presented a huge loaf then gave four ushers (or deaconesses, I don't know) prepared platters. Two came directly to the choir box which seemed grossly disproportionate to the nine of us there. Then they walked, with measured or exaggerated steps, down the aisles, glancing constantly to their left and right to keep even with the other servers. As best as I could make out, only myself and the choir director abstained. They came around again in the same way as before with the juice cups. Four servers with full platters, much too much for the usual turnout. I passed empty, used cups down the choir rows because there are no prayerbook racks with spots for the used cups.

Meanwhile, from my side view, I became keenly aware that the minister was doing nothing while communion was distributed. She paced a bit at first, as if she didn't know what to do with herself. Then she backed up from the table and seated her rump on the front ledge of the platform. I found the image highly off-putting but I was just as bothered by her idleness during communion. Now, one might declare, "'Priesthood of all believers' means everyone ministers to themselves and self-communicates." Obviously, I'm not going to agree with that.

The polyester of the choir robes made me uncomfortable. If I had been seated on the end of the choir box, I would have gone out for a breather during the service. But I was trapped in the middle so that wasn't possible. At one point in the service, I really felt quite ill but I held it together and got through.

At the conclusion, I hung up my robe in the closet. I can't make the next four or five Sunday mornings.
1 "How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

At some point, I met a woman at Bible study who is now on the verge of moving permanently out of state. She’s fifteen years my senior which seems to be the age of women that I get along with. I took an interest in her life, in the things that she opened up to me about, specifically her son’s high school cross country success and the ups and downs of church office employment. Often the responsibilities of that employment kept her from Bible study.

Then, at some point, she moved on from belonging to that church we met at. I myself had never belonged to it. So, except for Facebook on which she rarely shared, we were out of touch. Recently she became vocal about plans to sell their NJ home and move back closer to their childhood origins. I heard no plans for a good-bye gathering so I picked a Sunday morning to visit the evangelical church she attends.

Just riding through Princeton early on a Sunday morning is a treat. I saw a large group of young people waiting to cross Washington Rd. who may have been participants in the summer sports camps on campus, as Kenny was last summer. I spotted a family touring the campus on their own. Honestly, I’d never before made a right hand turn at Nassau St., so already an adventure. Lovely, beautiful houses, some obviously “original” to the founding. The church was quite out of town. I realized immediately that the wedding photos a photographer had posted to Facebook the day before were taken at this church. I drove straight to the back of the large parking lot and backed in to hide my many bumper magnets.

With my car door open, I leaned back inside to fish out my pocketbook and a bill for the collection. But I could see that an approaching car wished to park in the empty spot next to me. Except my open door was in the way. So, I scooted back into the car and closed the door however the driver had already found another spot nearby. I’m used to church parking lots being still, even deathlike, before a service because everyone is usually already inside for pre-service Sunday School. And with no one to lead the way, it’s a guessing game which door to enter by. No summer Sunday School.

About to open my car door again, I spot a second car coming to the back of the parking lot, and this time the driver does park in the spot next to me. I wait for them all to exit then I make my move to get out of my car. But the driver doubles back to close the car windows, which involves getting in and turning on the car. So I’m waiting feeling dumb. When I do finally get out, I see all the “right” bumper stickers and window clings on the cars parked around me, “Wilberforce School,” “Calvin College,” etc. Schools and colleges. No political stickers.

I see a family with children enter at the end door and decide that’s the nursery. So I’d better find another way in. I clutch tightly my designer Good News Bible with its two-tone leather cover and gilded edges— which I now see are so outdated! I used the hardcover, pew ESV Bible during the service and as confidently as possible, stride up to the side entrance, pleased to see that my long sleeve blouse, ankle-length skirt and leather sandals are in keeping with the prevailing women’s attire.

The service starts on time with the sanctuary a quarter full. I expect the hymn lyrics to be displayed on the screens but, no, Hymns for the Living Church is used.

There is no time for greeting those around us or welcoming visitors. Everything and everyone is “excellent,” because Princeton. I felt dignified just sitting there among them. The sermon hung together beautifully. It was on Isaiah 61. For the most part, he kept to that chapter and only referenced Isaiah 50 and 53 at the beginning. And he mentioned Nehemiah. There wasn’t any quirky theology in it. Nothing peculiar, nothing denominational. Just sinners and savior.

I gave up early on looking for the woman I intended to wish farewell. Once the service started, I was focused. Afterwards, I exited the sanctuary to the lovely area immediately outside. I spotted the acquaintance stuffing a bagel into her mouth. She was speaking with someone but when she saw me, she excused herself from that conversation. Turning to me, she asked that dumb question, “Is this your church, too?” I suppose an even dumber question would be, “What are you doing here?”

Anyway, I wished her well. She was on her way into the sanctuary for the later service and I told her, as well done as it was, it was probably a repeat of the earlier one and I didn’t need it.
Retracing my steps …

Next in line, I held my place while the clerk finished with a customer and then took a moment to help a co-worker with something in her line. I wasn’t close enough to hear exactly what the problem was but as she invited me to step up, she continued lamenting how it was her first day alone and “everything has gone wrong.” I laid out each of my items, one at a time, on the counter while she was thinking out loud about an employee on the sales floor, “Yeah, I’m only giving her three hours today, then I’m sending her home.” She tapped my phone number and email address into her register but I declined to have the receipt emailed to me.

The grand total shocked me. Wasn’t the entire store 50% off? I wanted to look over the receipt immediately. I glanced at it briefly then decided that it was probably alright and exited the store. When I got to my car right outside, though, something was still nagging at me. I patiently sat myself down and resolved to have a look. I pulled an item from the bag and scanned the receipt for its SKU. Not there. I pulled a second item, beginning to suspect I had been given the wrong receipt, and couldn’t find it. I got worried. When would the police swoop in and surround my car? I counted four items on the receipt and six items in my bag. I turned the receipt over, thinking more items might be listed after the fold but the order was totaled on the first side.

It was clear so what to do? Well, if it had been an overcharge, I certainly would march right back in there for an adjustment. Why should an undercharge be any different? Oh, but maybe all their scanned prices are screwed up in their system? What was the problem the other checker was having in her line? Wasn’t it about prices not ringing up correctly? Don’t new prices go into effect on Mondays, especially after a holiday? Maybe I broke even?

But I kept coming back to the fact that I got two items that I wasn’t charged for. And then I remembered the checker’s words about everything going wrong that day. It had been a long day at the end of a long holiday season. She was in charge of the store and any loss would reflect on her.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m aware, situated as that store is, where that store is, that merchandise loss is very likely a regular occurrence, whether or not the checkers “aid and abet” through careless transactions. Two items, in the grand scheme, may be a drop in the bucket. But I caught it, maybe not at point of sale like I should have, but before I’d left the vicinity.

So, somewhat sure of the facts, I returned to the store and purchased the other two items. I was not rung up by the same person which may have been a good thing. And I can’t be sure that the person who rung me up even let the apparent manager know of it. I feel my motivation was due to a sort of empathy towards the manager, towards a young person starting out in retail, an attempt to make up for a day when “everything has gone wrong."