Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in house of my God’
In the less temperate months when I come to open and close the church, I always hope that a visitor will have enough perseverance to push on beyond the entry foyer to the warmth or cool of the church beyond. Good Calvinists that they are, the Holly Springs Presbyterians elected not to install heating and cooling vents in the entrance way, since opening those big front doors would soon empty out whatever warm or cool air had been piped into that space.
For winter, I have a wonderful warm minister’s cloak, a gift from my retired minister mentor, the Rev. Dr. Frank Brooks, of Corinth. When he gave it to me, I had no idea how handy it would be, and now that I am older, I could not be without. As it was, last Sunday I still nearly caught my death of cold standing in the church door.
When I open and shut the church, I always have a pleasant thought for my cousin Fred. As I have told you I often think of Fred, who made it his custom (unasked) to arrive early and stay late, opening the First Methodist Church in Fulton, Ky. I also think of Psalm 84, which says, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Still, in cold weather that downstairs hallway can be bracing.
I said we were children of John Calvin. I am sure that the old pastor of Geneva, Switzerland had no heating whatsoever in his church, and never thought of it. Calvin did have a kind bone or two, for in winter, he would advance the hour of the daily lecture hour (attendance was required of all by law) from 4 to 6 a.m., on account of the darkness of the season.
July 10, 2009, will be the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth. Our church will recall certain of his emphases; however, service at that early hour is not likely to be something we reinstitute. I do recall a note in the record book from our Holly Springs church from 1895, that “if the mercury records below 30 degrees on Saturday evening, they would not attempt to heat the Audience Room above, but service would be held in the Lecture Room below. And at any time they were unable to attain a greater heat in the auditorium than 50 degrees, no service should be held in it -- 55 degrees to be the minimum.” In that case, the service was to be downstairs, where presumably it would be warmer. Holly Springs sermons -- even in the Episcopal Church -- were at least an hour long in those days.
Sometimes it is the smallest things that go lacking in church. That is no surprise, for everybody wants the thrill of a great enterprise. So you can appreciate my gratitude to Martha Jane Jones, who watched over the careful dry cleaning of the needlepoint upholstery on our pulpit chairs, or to Jean Ann Jones, who took home a stole I use (it’s not mink, but silk damask), made for ministers to wear with their robes on special occasions in the church. It is not mine, it belongs to the church and has presided over so many weddings, christenings and communions over the years that it was falling to pieces -- a true textile antique -- for those who would appreciate such things.
Not being one who can even sew on a button without drawing blood, I entrusted this small project to Jean Ann, who like Dorcas in the New Testament, plied her needle, and so has made sure another generation of brides and babies will be sent on their way by a clergyperson properly clad.
And now that the needlepoint has been cleaned, I’ll tell another tale. When my late lamented rat terrier “Skipper” was but a pup, I took him along for protection one evening when I had to go over to the church at a midnight hour. (There’s that “I would rather be a doorkeeper” thing again -- I imagine it had to do with turning up the heat, but it was so long ago I cannot really remember.)
What I do remember is that the silly beast went tearing into the church through the darkness and bounded up one of the circular staircases two stairs at a leap. By the time I made it to the door and switched on the light, there he was (having followed my scent?), perched on the seat of the center needlepointed chair on the pulpit platform, surveying the scene as if he owned the place.
That needlework was brand new then, and I doubted the entire committee would think the matter as cute or clever as I did, so I hastily adjusted the thermostat, and Skipper’s visits to God’s House were thereafter under a more watchful eye.
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