Thursday, September 14, 2006
“...all creatures great and small”
Sunday as I arrived early and placed my key in the church door, I noticed a spider had made her web all over the doorknob and lock.
This is never a good sign if you want to advertise an active church!
But it is the truth, and I stopped to observe the spider who was lurking in the shadows, waiting for her prey. She was a wolf spider — absolutely harmless, but ferocious in appearance. One often sees them at this time of year. Of course, when my key touched the lock, the spider scurried to a safe hideaway.
One Sunday I was reading the first scripture lesson, and when I turned the page in the big Bible on our pulpit, one of these wolf spiders was dislodged from his hiding place, and came scurrying toward the sleeve of my robe. Not wishing to share my clothing with any member of the arachnid family, I took my bulletin and with a grand, sweeping gesture, scooped the wayward creature off the page and sent it flying to the floor below. I decided it would be best not to mention the incident to the congregation, who as far as I know, thought the gesture was an attempt to add drama to the lesson.
We love to sing “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.” Our old church has a good many creatures living within its walls. I told our housekeeper last Saturday it would be a good time to sweep out the gallery, as we are in that brief, cooler season between the bees and the wasps. The latter will soon come inside seeking shelter for the winter and there is always hilarity as members take a whack at them with their hymnals.
We have tried many times to bee-proof and wasp-proof the building. How many new deacons in charge of the property have vowed to accomplish the deed? But I always tell them that the bees were there before we were born and will be there after we are gone. They may be the best Presbyterians of all!
One Sunday, tidying up after church, I found a large pile of pecan hulls in the choir loft. Thinking it very much out of character that our consecrated and refined church organist, Mrs. Tate, would have sat there during my sermon shucking pecans, I investigated a further and found that a squirrel was inhabiting the choir. A little patch and Mr. Squirrel’s entry to the singers’ loft was denied.
But there are larger beasts who call our church home. On one occasion Dr. J. A. Hale had been commissioned to buy a pair of antique lamps for the upper foyer, to be placed as a memorial. He brought a fine pair from New Orleans and to me they looked very nice in the setting for which they were intended.
Late on Saturday night, however, it occurred to me that it would be best to show them privately to the family for whom they were being purchased, before everyone else added their two cents to the equation. So I walked over to the church, and with a lamp in each hand, walked across to the Sunday school building to put them in a closet.
It was at this moment that the church possum (I called her Ophelia) decided to run across my feet! It startled me so that I nearly dropped those two antique lamps! But I recovered my composure and you can see them today, beautiful and unharmed in the upper foyer of our church.
There is one more story to relate before I can close out this essay on church beasts. When I lived in Bob Lomenick’s apartment over Tyson’s, I awoke one February night to realize that I had forgotten to turn on the heat for the Sunday service the next morning.
Unless it were turned on, the building would not be sufficiently warm to have divine service. So there was nothing to do but haul myself out of my warm little bed and go over to the church.
I am so familiar with our old church that I can walk through the building in the dark. So, not wanting to wake myself up more than I had to, I picked my way in complete darkness through the fellowship hall and up the circular stairs that leads to the sanctuary, where the thermostat is located. (Someday archaeologists will wonder what liturgical role the thermostat played in religion, for every church has one, and the adjustment of the thermostat is as invariable a part of each service as the singing of the doxology or the collecting of the collection.)
Anyway, as I crept up those stairs in the cold and dark, I suddenly found myself “nose to nose” with another creature, distinctly not human, who by chance happened to be making its descent! I have no idea what it was! But I scared it as much as it scared me!
We both wheeled around and ran in opposite directions. But I could hear its claws skittering across the sanctuary’s hardwood floor. After I turned on the lights and initiated a search, I concluded it must have been a squirrel, but in the dark of 3 a.m., it could have been a grizzly bear!
I decided, once again, that it might be better not to mention the incident to the assembled congregation. But mark you, in the Kirk of Holly Springs, we do not say our prayers alone.
After church last Sunday, Grady Brooks, age 4, precocious son of Gene and Mary Clay, came out from the nursery and asked, “Mr. Milton, how was preaching?” Wouldn’t it be something if one of my young people grew up to follow in the footsteps of his old preacher?
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