I ran 20 miles on Monday – my longest training run so far – a great way to kick off Holy Week! A little medieval self-flagellation never hurt anyone. Much. I’ll try to get in another 20 miler in two weeks and then the glorious taper begins. And then, come Patriots’ Day in Boston, I’ll be doing my best to heed St. Paul’s charge to “run with patience the race that is set before you” (Hebrews 12:1).
We spent the weekend in Westport, Connecticut visiting our friends Harry and Andrea and their 7-year-old daughter Madelaine. Harry’s an old college buddy of mine from Tufts — we were both in Army ROTC together — so there’s lots of history.
The kids were great, basically babysitting one another while the adults ate, drank, and laughed a lot. The highlight was seeing Harry’s face after dinner when Madelaine asked her parents, “Can I sleep with Ben and Zack tonight?” Oh, to have a daughter.
Harry and Andrea were anxious for us to go to church with them on Sunday morning. They really like their pastor and particularly wanted me to meet him and hear him preach. They’ve become quite involved and Andrea just became the church treasurer! (God bless her). I’ve never been anywhere but an Episcopal church on Palm Sunday so I had no idea what to expect. A procession with a live donkey? Imported California palm trees for the sanctuary? Artichokes at coffee hour?
Their church is classic New England congregational (affiliated with the United Church of Christ). Founded in 1711, the current building dates from 1852 and is white on the exterior sporting a gracious steeple and very bright inside with clear windows. The congregation was very warm and welcoming — the usher even shook my hand on the way in. And the three kids trotted off to Sunday School together so I actually got to hear a great sermon.
The piece I struggled with was missing many of the elements I associate with the day — the blessing of the palms, the reading of the Passion narrative, communion, red vestments. When Episcopalians do Palm Sunday the liturgy dramatically moves from shouts of “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” I guess I’m just too much of a liturgist.
Fortunately, someone did hand us palms on the way to the “fellowship hour” after the service. Which meant the requisite palm branch sword fight in the parking lot between Ben, Zack, and Madelaine. I’m sure kids were doing the same thing when Jesus came in on that donkey. And that’s as much a Palm Sunday tradition as anything else.
My sabbatical tour of local churches continued yesterday. I went solo since I couldn’t drag the boys out (see my previous post as to the reasons why — not pretty). But it was just as well since the service went pretty long and Ben and Zack have little tolerance for church as endurance sport. Of course neither do I unless it’s, say, Good Friday.
Last summer I took them to the cathedral in Baltimore for a service. Bryna slept in that day since she wanted me to experience sitting with the boys in church as a single parent. They did pretty well except Zack doesn’t suffer long, boring sermons very well. I presume none of us do but while we might read the bulletin, Zack comments. Loudly. So as this seminarian droned on and on from the pulpit, Zack waited for a dramatic pause and proclaimed, “Yeah, yeah, I get the point.” The truth was, he was right. And the preacher quickly wrapped it up.
The worst part of yesterday’s service for me wasn’t the sermon but the Lord’s Prayer. Evidently one of the congregation’s traditions is to hold hands while praying it. Ugh. So there I was holding hands with someone two rows ahead of me and someone else two rows back. I wasn’t sure if I felt more like a liturgical contortionist or a medieval prisoner stretched out on “the rack.” In either case it wasn’t the most prayerful posture. That little pious squeeze people sometimes give after holding hands in prayer didn’t help my frame of mind either. Just let go, please.
We stumbled into a “children’s service” at a local church on Sunday morning. I’d like to say I researched and then lovingly chose a family friendly eucharist for the benefit of the boys. But it was dumb luck.
One of the things I’ve learned on sabbatical is that getting the boys out the door to church is a nightmare. I have new-found respect for Bryna’s heroism as a single parent on Sunday mornings. This week we fought with Ben and Zack about everything from getting dressed to putting on shoes to wearing jackets to buckling seat belts. In the background was the constant refrain, “I’m not going to church!” I know they didn’t sign up for my sabbatical practice of going to different churches but as much as they usually complain about going to church, they can’t wait for my sabbatical to end so they can return to “our” church.
Of course once we finally got there, they were great. I wasn’t exactly in a worshipful frame of mind after pleading, arguing, threatening, and yelling all morning; I could have used a stiff drink. But they were little angels, following along in the bulletin, singing the hymns, putting money into the collection plate (without trying to pocket it).
As annoyed as I get with families at the parish who are on the one or two Sunday a month plan, I have to give them credit for just getting out the door. It’s not easy. Even when you resort to bribes about going out to brunch afterwards.
The service itself was blessedly short — well under an hour. This was perfect for the average child’s attention span. Certainly for my children’s attention span. For the sermon, all the kids were called up front and a woman read “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss. And, while it captured their imagination, I have no idea how it related to the gospel. Sure, “A person’s a person no matter how small” but what does that have to do with Jesus and the woman at the well? Uh, not much.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re having the kitchen redone at the rectory. Note to self: the next time you take a sabbatical, don’t simultaneously renovate the kitchen. Progress is being made, however, and we once again have full use of the washer and dryer. Hauling laundry to my mother-in-law’s house across town got old. Okay, I only did it once but that was enough.
Fortunately the tiny new sink in the mudroom has been installed because the only other one in the house — the upstairs bathroom — is now clogged. I’m waiting for the plumber to call me back. And, yes, I tried one of those drain clearing products yesterday to no avail. I even tried shoving a bent hanger down the drain to clear it. That was after I tried to plunge it with the toilet plunger — not effective. And please don’t tell Bryna about the plunger; I’ll deny it. No one ever accused me of being handy.
Why am I sharing my plumbing issues? Because it’s all scriptural of course. Haven’t you been paying attention in church recently? The gospel passage last week was Jesus and the woman at the well. This Sunday Jesus tells the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam. Lots of water! Water, water everywhere and I can barely get a drop.
Fine, that’s a weak connection. But the good news about my sabbatical is that no one will be subjected to a sermon illustration that involves the plumbing at the rectory.
An odd thing about being on sabbatical is not knowing where you’ll be going to church come Sunday morning. Last night I basically took out the Yellow Pages to figure this out. Okay, I wasn’t so desperate that I consulted the phone book — I know the local Episcopal churches. But I did have to check the web page for service times. I settled on St. Barnabas in Irvington http://www.stbarnabaschurch.org/. Although I’ve passed the church a slew of times — it’s about 20 minutes away on a major thoroughfare — I’ve never had occasion to go inside. Charlie Colwell, the rector, is a very gentle and learned man. He’s the longest serving rector in the Diocese of New York having started at St. Barnabas in 1972; he recently announced his impending retirement.
It was great to be back in an Episcopal church after a two-week hiatus. A good reminder that you can quite literally hunger for the sacrament when you go without it.
I snuck in for the 8 o’clock service alone since Bryna had to leave soon after to go into NYC. I couldn’t drag the boys out with me at that hour without waking up the neighborhood. But before taking them out to brunch we did a little cyber worship. I found an online Stations of the Cross appropriate for kids http://frpat.com/stations.htmand they took turns reading the stations (without crucifying one another). We concluded our devotions by clicking onto one of Matthew Moretz’s great youtube videos — the one on Baptism http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLBRujWQc6c. They got a kick out this! Especially Fr. Matthew’s touchdown sequence (you’ll just have to watch it). And 15 minutes later we were enjoying “Coffee Hour” at The Patio.
Happy Presidents Day! No one’s ever greeted me this way as they raced out to the mall to buy a discounted shower curtain at Bed, Bath and Beyond. But let me be the first to wish you a happy and healthy Presidents Day. I wonder what George W. is doing today. “No, Laura I will not take out the trash. It’s Presidents Day for God’s sake. Have some respect. Make Jenna do it.”
And what about all our former Vice Presidents? Why isn’t a day set aside to honor their service to God and country? I think we need a day to celebrate Agnew, Quayle, Cheney, Mondale, Gore, etc. Since they get no respect they should at least have their own day. Plus, we need more three day weekends in this country to give people additional excuses for skipping church.
Maybe I’ll put this day to good use and teach the boys the names of some former presidents. I just have to remember that Ben Franklin never occupied the Oval Office.