Thursday, April 29, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
The same key did not fit all the locks!
The workers are still over at our church, and yesterday one of them was accidentally locked in the building. That being the case, I told him you are really not part of our congregation unless you’ve been locked in the church at some time or another — and I am not referring to the “captive audience” that has to endure the sermon on Sunday morning. The doors are fully unlocked then, and people can (and do) come and go as they please.
Chesley Smith told me of the first instance this was known to happen. Helen Craft Anderson, who lived where the Schules are now on Chulahoma, was a devout church member and dedicated to her calling as the unpaid but much-loved church organist.
On one occasion, her young grandniece, Vorhees Daniel (she later became Chesley’s mother), who lived across from the church in the Craft Place, begged to go with her aunt to the church to listen as she practiced.
The child soon became distracted and climbed the winding staircase to the gallery where she amused herself quietly.
Mrs. Anderson, forgetting that the child had accompanied her, closed up the organ, descended the stairs from the sanctuary, locked the church, and went home. Not until the little girl was missed about an hour later was a hurried return made to rescue the child.
That was before the days of telephones, of course. During my time, I once, by accident, locked a workman inside. Oblivious to what I had done, hopped into my car and went to Memphis. The worker, who knew lots of Pres-byterians, found the telephone in the kitchen and dialed every one of these persons, only to find that nobody was at home.
Finally, he did locate one kind Presbyterian lady, who was in possession of a key. She graciously came up to the church and liberated him. She told me later that this poor man was mad as a wet hen. I could only offer my profoundest apologies, but he never would work in the church again!
We have also had our share of children left behind by parents who arrived in separate cars, and then went whizzing away after services, each thinking the other had the kids. (That’s a scary thought!) I tell these parents, I am happy to preach to their children, but I have not “taken them to raise!” Remember: Please collect all your belongings before leaving the church!
The most hair-raising tale of being locked in the church happened to me before I was even the pastor! I was visiting Holly Springs to meet with the pastor nominating committee, and someone had very kindly pressed a key into my palm, with the invitation to stop by the church and look the place over as carefully as I wished, while I was visiting in the city.
The building was mine to use as a headquarters while the host family I was staying with was out during the day.
Needless to say, I wanted to see what I might be getting myself into, so after I dressed for a supper meeting with the committee, I decided to use that key and have a look around.
I had been told the same key fitted all the locks. (Remember that fact!) The key did, in fact, fit all the locks, for they had recently been updated — that is, the locks downstairs.
But there is also a passageway, or covered bridge, on the second floor, to enable people to pass from the Sunday school to the church proper at the second-floor level — a real convenience that saves many trips up and down stairs. I went out on that bridge, opening one door and turning the thumb bolt to activate the lock, slamming it behind me in the expectation that when I got to the other side my key would open the door at that end.
Imagine my surprise when I found that I had locked myself out, and that the key I had been given would not open either door. I was stranded!
You must picture me standing there on that upper deck in summer heat, wearing a suit and tie, and dress shoes! My first thought was to call down to the street for help. Several people drove by, but they had their windows rolled up and the radio blaring.
Finally I got a passing car to notice me, and in good Holly Springs fashion, the driver lifted a finger from the steering wheel, duly acknowledging my wave, but drove on, minding his own business, as all good people should. I am sure some wondered who the stranger was, waving from the balcony of the Presbyterian Church.
I grew more panicky, for the hour of the dinner was arriving, and when you are interviewing for a job, you don’t want to be late! I began to think about climbing down, but there was no obvious way. I also thought about jumping off, but it is just far enough that you realize you might break a leg.
Moreover, the choice was to land on solid concrete, or land in a holly bush. None of these possibilities was appealing.
Also I was in a suit and polished shoes. Should I first remove my pants?
At just that moment I recalled an old college prank of opening a lock with a credit card. I had only heard of people doing this, and never having been of a criminal mindset, I had very little practice breaking into places.
I was raised, after all, in a home where we never locked the doors. However, using a car key and a credit card, I was able to gain entry back into the Sunday school and come down the stairs and let myself out.
I, of course, did not mention any of this to my hosts that evening, lest they think I was a fool, or that I was criticizing the appointments of their beautiful church, of which they were rightly proud.
Needless to say, after I accepted the call to become their pastor, one of the first things I did was to have those upstairs doorways modified to make sure that the same key did, in fact, fit all the locks.
That time, along with a recent incident when the elevator door would not open, are the only occasions that I have had to depend upon the angels to let me in and out of our church.
Dr. Allen Cabaniss from the University at Oxford, once preached in Holly Springs as a guest minister. It had snowed that morning, and the usual small number who turn out for guest ministers failed that morning to appear, thinking that surely he would not attempt to keep his appointment that day.
But they underestimated Dr. Cabiness — a rock-ribbed Calvinist Presbyterian if ever there was one. Arriving and finding the place locked tight with nary a footprint on the snow-covered walkways, Dr. Cabiness found an unlocked window, climbed into the church, and got on the phone to round up a congregation.
A sheepish remnant quickly gathered, and Divine Service was conducted without further comment by either preacher or parishioners.
Oh yes — in case you wondered — the worker who was locked in the church this week, had also used our front door to load and unload equipment, and remembered that you can exit from that door without need of a key. So he “rescued himself” with no trouble.
That keyless front door is a good point for all the other folks who come and go from our church also to remember. Our church is a very nice place, but you would not want to stay locked in for a week!
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