Blowing Out The Flame (For Now)

I have been serving as an acolyte during church services for 17 years. Unlike many “cradle Episcopalians” who may have started acolyting as youngsters, I began acolyting as an adult (I was confirmed an Episcopalian in late 1995). I served at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church (where I had been confirmed) and continued serving at my present church, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, when I transferred there in 2005. Today was my last day acolyting regularly, at least for now. (I share responsibility with my husband for transporting my inlaws to their church now that neither one of them can drive. I had been “hanging on” by acolyting once a month but with my schedule, I sometimes have to decline my monthly assignment. It doesn’t feel fair to either party, them or me, for me to be so sporadic in my participation). This “break” feels a little bit more like a goodbye, though, at least to a worship responsibility that I have loved. It deserves a bit of reflection.

Processional Torch

I was recruited to acolyte by Judy Coleman when she and I both attended St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church. Anyone who knows Judy knows that she is one of those people “you can’t say no to.” I am so glad she convinced me to serve. The way she and Michael Berry taught acolyting, you walked away prepared and respectful of the process (although this “prepared adult acolyte” had more than her share of misfires over her career!).

Judy focused a lot on decorum among the acolyte crew (remember, a lot of trainees were kids). You don’t swing your rope around; you don’t chew gum; you remember that you are at a place of reverence. The order in which you light the candles matter because you don’t want the gospel to go unilluminated. They are messages and lessons that I have perpetually carried with me, even in environments that were much more loosely structured.

As someone who gets drowsy easily, being an acolyte was a HUGE help to me in staying engaged with the service. Having an active role to play made a difference for me. Listening for the next cue to do something; counting attendees in order to have the right amount of supplies at communion; knowing that little kids were watching us and how we carried ourselves, the cross, and the candles was a reminder that we were, as we were often told, “leaders in worship.”

Eventually, Tenley (who I was pregnant with when I started training) began acolyting as well. It was such a pleasure to serve side by side with my daughter. She continued acolyting a bit at Holy Comforter. These are all times I treasure.

Getting To Know Parishioners Better: Having the opportunity to serve as an acolyte at funerals, as well as services I wouldn’t necessarily normally go to gave me a deeper connection to parishioners I did not know that well. I was soberingly honored to be part of the funerals of some cherished parishioners, and to help celebrate their lives.

Outtakes: Oh yes, there are outtakes! I guess there always are when you do something for a long time. There was the infamous (to me) time I didn’t ring the bells during communion at St. Francis (the prayer book didn’t have “ring now” notes for anything except Prayer A so I didn’t ring them when we were doing Prayer B). Father Gil saying he thought I omitted the bells “because I may have had a headache” still makes me laugh. //  There’s the time I handed Father Tom the wrong piece of altar linen (maybe it was a purificator instead of a corporal – I still don’t know!) and exchanged an email with him afterwards in which he went out of his way to make sure I didn’t feel criticized // There’s the parishioner who (recently) suggested I hold my hands farther apart on the cross so “it wouldn’t wobble so much.” (Gotta admit I’m still smarting a little over that one given how I feel about reverence!!). // There was every time I tried to knot the rope myself and had to get help. Hopefully the outtakes are only a small portion of my acolyte CV.

Tenley and Wayne, when they were little, loved having the “job” of blowing out the torches at the end of the service. I guess I’m blowing out the torch on my career as an acolyte, at least temporarily. However, whether I am in the pew or serving as part of the altar party:

I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.

Acolyte Collage with Verse

 

 

 

Holy and Human, Seven Days a Week (A Retirement Tribute to Father Gil)

From August 1992 through mid-2005, my priest was Father Gil Crosby. One of our practices as a congregation at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church was called “Thanksgivings.” During this part of the service, which occurred right before recessional, he would stand in front of us and anyone who wished to express something they were thankful for would make a donation into the “Thanksgivings” bucket and say what they were thankful for. The proceeds all went into a scholarship fund to send kids to summer camp at Camp Weed.

As Father Gil retires, I would like to share a few thoughts in tribute and thanksgiving. If I were monopolozing “Thanksgivings” long enough to discuss the things for which I am most grateful, they would include:

Helping me prepare for and co-officiating over my 1995 confirmation by the Bishop. For saying to me, during that preparation period, “Jesus came to take away our sin, not our intellect”

For the time he leaned over into my ear, and said, during the passing of the peace, “this may be a good day to ask for intercessory prayer,” not knowing I had just received test results about my unborn baby that had me worried. (I did get intercessory prayer and everything did turn out fine.)

Baptizing Tenley in November 1996

Blessing our Opal Court house in 1998

Being (or acting) oblivious when a very young toddler Tenley stood there with him during Thanksgivings, just “hanging out” where the gratitude was

Baptizing Wayne Kevin in October 1999

Starting every vestry meeting off with prayer and reflection rather than business

Being the sole clergyperson who, when I met with him to discuss my decision to move to a different congregation, prayed with me about it

Being candidly human when, at the end of church one day, he shared a personal request on behalf of his granddaughter, who sorely needed our prayers, and his grief was so un-glossed over. He trusted us, an entire congregation, to share the pain

Making sure so many children (including Tenley) had an opportunity to go to Camp Weed regardless of financial considerations

Adding publicly, one night when we were praying as a vestry, “please help Paula deal with being so tired.” (I don’t remember the exact words, but they went precisely to the heart of my needs.)

As Trina McCarthy put it at his retirement dinner, Fr. Gil models how to be “human as well as holy.” At the same event, someone else poked fun at the old (and utterly untrue) joke that a priest only works on Sundays.

A Don Sergio Castro quote I read recently said, “If everybody acted in a simple and human way, we’d all be saints.” That quote struck something about my feelings for and gratitude toward Father Gil (and his wife Jacque). There were times, especially in my last years at St. Francis, when we as a congregation, he as a clergyperson, I as a parishioner, and all of us as Christians faced a complexity we had not anticipated and didn’t want. I am also sure none of us are saints. But I know Fr. Gil has a gift for helping us approach the complex by breaking it down into the simple. I know he will continue reminding everyone in his circle of the role of prayer in each individual’s life, each congregation’s journey, each nation’s fate.

I could fund a lot of children’s trips to Camp Weed with the amount of money I would really like to give to represent my gratitude for the human holiness which Father Gil demonstrated seven days a week.

Written with a thankful heart …. January 2012