Hallo again to all.
On this Third Sunday of Advent, instead of talking about Advent or making suggestions about what you can do during Advent, we will tell you a few stories about events on Sundays in Advent in years past.
Our first story takes place a parish that we visited during Advent a number of years ago. When we travel and worship in churches far from home, we usually try not to sit in the back, hiding, but to sit where we can see and hear and experience as much as possible. So we were actually sitting in the second pew, on the pulpit side, when the processional hymn started and the congregation stood to sing. We flinched at the ineptness of the organist, but the choir was passionate, loud, and on-key. The altar party included half a dozen children, all perhaps between 8 and 12 years of age, carrying torches and crosses and singing well.
We noticed that one of the torch-bearers, a lad of perhaps 10, was wearing Reebok cross-trainers underneath his white acolyte's robe, and smiled as we thought about the process by which he decided to wear those shoes that day.
Just as the collect for purity began and we were learning that this was a thee-and-thou parish, we were astonished to notice a telephone quietly ringing in the space behind the pulpit. Who ever could be ringing the altar in the middle of a worship service, and, even more amazing, why ever did one of the adults actually answer it? We were amazed both by the presence of the telephone and by its use. We were unable to hear any of the conversation, which lasted about 20 seconds, but when the man put down the telephone, he walked over to where the torch-bearers were standing and stealthily led one of them to a place we could not see.
The telephone was not used again, as far as we noticed, but in the exit processional at the end of the service, we did not see a boy with Reebok shoes. We couldn't tell whether the boy was replaced or his shoes were replaced or the boy was tossed out the back door, but there were no Reebok logos visible as the altar party processed out. At coffee hour, we asked about the telephone and were told that it was called 'the Frank phone', named after the fierce old parishioner who sat in the choir loft with binoculars scanning for liturgical mistakes, and when he saw such a mistake, he would telephone the altar to demand that it be corrected immediately. What was most strange to us was that no one seemed to consider the existence of a liturgical prosecutor (or telephones installed for his use) to be odd. Of course you corrected mistakes in the liturgy. Why else would people come to church?
In thinking about 'the Frank phone' and its purpose, we recalled that some years before, on an Advent III Sunday in another church, the boy carrying the first crucifix (about 11 years old), had been wearing shoes that had batteries and lights in their clear plastic soles, so that every time he took a step, the soles of the shoes flashed bright with colour. There was no secret telephone, the boy was not evicted or strung up, and his shoes shined just as brightly with each step he took as the altar party processed out at the end of the service. But then we forgot all about it.
Today in the same church where years ago we'd seen the crucifer with flashing shoes, it was once again Advent III, and we were delighted to see another much-younger boy in the altar party (no more than 6 or 7 years old, we'd guess) wearing such shoes and bursting with pride in them. Perhaps this wearing of flashing shoes was some sort of an acolyte tradition on pink-candle Sunday? We didn't ask, but thought it likely.
What made all of this into an Advent story for us was that today at coffee hour, there were families talking about whether they might have their little children be angels or shepherds in this year's Christmas Pageant, and we realized with a start that the proud young father standing there pondering whether his 3-year-old should be a shepherd was the very person we'd seen many years earlier as an acolyte sporting electric shoes under alb and cincture, now grown up with a child of his own.
But he came back to church as an adult. We'd venture a guess that the Reebok-wearing victim of the Frank phone did no such thing.
See you next week. We'll be wearing simple black leather shoes with waxed laces.
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