Monday, July 18, 2011

Ella's morning swim program takes us forty minutes from home for the next two weeks. Since it's just me, it makes sense to hang around in the vicinity until she's done. Their instructional policy is that parents cannot remain to observe.

What to do, what to do?

My first impulse was to check out the camp meeting at Ocean Grove. I've always wanted to but never been able because it begins so early and I'm coming a distance. Now, I had heard that exiting the swim school's parking lot takes a great deal of time and patience. Worse than a church lot. I was afraid that rushing over to Ocean Grove and back would waste my time.

Instead, I found the nearest public library. I always have things I want to read or study. The library doesn't open until 10 and I figured, as slow as the parking lot may be, I'd get out well before then. After dropping off Ella, I checked my GPS for the nearest Catholic church. There's one in Sea Girt a couple of miles away. I figured that if they had a morning mass, it would have been at 9 or earlier but I went over to visit and pray a rosary.

There was a man working the grounds but the side door was open. The outside sign announced a 7:30 am and an 11:00 am daily mass. I slipped inside and milled around a bit. A stack of Sunday bulletins lay on a high table with the top one face down. I saw only the standard small business advertisements on the back and paid no attention. I found the church inside to be beautiful despite a lack of coherence in decor. I'm not sure if, taken as a whole, it was breathtaking but features of it were tasteful. I had left my camera in the car and was kicking myself for not bringing it in. Maybe tomorrow I'll get some pictures.

The first thing I noticed, after the tabernacle, was a low, marble altar rail. It surprised me to see an altar rail. But it's marble so why not keep it? For the final decade I knelt at it and found the silestone floor more comfortable than the tile in the pews. The marble was, of course, cool to the touch as I rested my arms.

Before leaving, I gave myself the grand tour. A large pipe organ was situated in the choir loft above, 'though I saw a covered-over piano and drum kit below towards the front. I exited the heavy wooden doors to the vestibule and saw a makeshift nursery with no connection to the sanctuary. I picked up a bulletin out of curiosity as to whether I'd ever heard of the pastor and my jaw dropped because my former pastor from ten years ago, who married us, is assigned there. And, of course, I knew that but all the shore parishes begin to sound the same after a while.

I thought if I returned for the 11 o'clock service, I might see him. Or I might not. The service would let out with enough time for me to get back to Ella at her swim lesson, so I decided to attend. I got to the library ten minutes before it opened, but a good thing I was early because the small parking lot filled up quickly. A half dozen people waited at the side entrance, most to return books. I found a seat and desk inside, one of two, and got to work on my weekly Acts Bible study homework. I had forgotten a Bible which was only needed for a few verses outside Acts, most of which were familiar. That is, I could guess the reference from the context. Still, when I'd worked my way through all the questions, I walked the perimeter of the library, looking for the reference books. In less than a minute - it's a small library, I found the dictionaries, encyclopedias and Bibles. I brought an RSV back to my place and double-checked the references to Paul's letters. They were all as I had thought. My pen was struggling to put out ink and the last word I needed to write was little more than an indentation on the page. Bring another pen or two tomorrow.

I arrived back over at the church well before 11 because I wanted to be assured a decent parking space. The church seems to have no parking lot, only street parking. My GPS told me it would take seven minutes to get from the church to Ella's swim school and I was quite sure the service would run only 30 minutes. It began on time. The place was packed with mostly older folks. The responses were hardly said in unison at all. I was really thrown off by the lack of unity. But, except for some minor improvisation, the service followed the prescribed liturgy. I must have seemed as if I was in a hurry to leave when it was over but I was trying to move slowly for the sake of the others. Due to traffic heading into the swim school, it probably took twice as long as my TomTom said but I still made it on time. Ella had a wonderful time and can't wait to return tomorrow. Me, too.

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