Monday, October 20, 2014
“I have learned all kinds of things from my many mistakes. The one thing I never learn is to stop making them.” ― Joe Abercrombie
While serving St. James UMC in Stoneham, Massachusetts, from 1988 to 1992 while I was in seminary, I made quite a few mistakes as I was just learning how to be a pastor. Seminary does not teach you the simple things you must know, like how to celebrate Holy Communion, perform a marriage, or baptize. When I was the part-time pastor of Winslow UMC in Arkansas, I never wore a robe. After all, I was just part-time. Well, some kind person in the congregation gave me a robe to wear in Stoneham. The church there (picture at the right) was beautiful and had a an almost Anglican chancel with a high altar. We served grape juice for communion in individual plastic cups. We had brass trays that would each hold 36 of the little cups, and we would stack them on the altar before the service. The very first time that I was to serve Holy Communion in my robe, I had had little practice in walking around in a robe which was like a long dress. It was a little long and dragged the ground, but I loved it. Just a simple black robe, but it caused a rather spectacular mistake. There were only twenty or so who came on Sunday mornings when I first got there. By the time I left, the number was up to around 175. Happily, this Sunday, there were still fairly small numbers in attendance. At the appropriate time, I climbed the three steps to the high altar to get the first of four brass trays filled with communion cups which were filled to the brim with grape juice. I said the appropriate words, lifted the first tray, and then attempted to step back down the three steps without turning around. I caught my heel in the hem of my robe and lost my balance. I began falling backward while still holding the tray of cups. As I hit the floor, I remember thinking that I had to hold onto that tray, and I did. Unfortunately, the cups were not attached to the tray and shot out toward the congregation like pellets out of a shotgun shell. By this time I was laying on my back and hearing the small cups clatter and spill behind me. The church was unearthly quiet. Then, and to this day I don’t know who said it, a voice from the back said out loud, “Hell, son, we’d have come got ‘em.” The church erupted in laughter, the tension was broken, and people came up to help me clean up and get organized. I finished the communion service without any more glitches, but I did learn to practice before doing when it came to doing ritual in a robe. I think almost all those there that morning have since passed away, but I will never forget it. It taught me that even when things are very solemn, there can still be laughter that is healing and holy. Now you know this is true because you have never heard a story like it before. I know it’s true because my wife was there and she loves to remind me about it whenever I drop a glass or a kitchen utensil. I’m glad God loves laughter and that people are kind to beginners. You be kind to everyone, you never know how hard their lives may be.