15 April 2014

Blessing, Baptism & the Brief Joys of Ushering

For reasons beyond my understanding I picked up Gilead again the other day and read it again.  I love that book.  I tried to read it when it first came out, but that was during my "death period" family deaths and a string of deaths at church - I couldn't take anymore about death.

During my fictive sabbatical I picked up Gilead again and read it.  My memory from the first read was way off: I had John Ames's son as a daughter & the story wasn't even in Iowa.  Robinson's sentences were so sweet, thick, and soothing that I wanted to take it in as quickly as possible (for the record almost every work I read that year I read quick-like).  This time I took my time.  This time: I was right back, emotionally, at the place when I first tried to read it - my chest was heavy, I cried and cried, and found each sentence to be a balm.  The one sentence that stuck out dealt with baptism as blessing, how ministers (especially in free church traditions) overlook the power of blessing.

Last Sunday I baptized two youths, with the sentences of Marilynne Robinson lapping over almost every sentence of the day.  The baptism was a blessing.

As I baptized them I thought about baptizing my daughter last year, all the baptisms I have done thus far, and my own baptism.

Funny thing about baptisms within the Baptist tradition: the one thing that defines us we dont pay that much attention, liturgically speaking, to the act.  So I pour all of the attention I can into the day.  Oh how I wish someone would have talked to me more about baptism, given me a charge, given me a blessing.  So I did just that this year.  Here is a video of the charge, the blessing is part 2 if you want to see it also.

Judson Charge to the Baptized "Service With a Smile" 20140413 (1 of 2) from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

As I laid in bed the other evening, thinking of my own baptism, I remembered the forgotten joy of being an usher.  Shortly after I was baptized my grandmother and great aunt bought me a suit.  The suit was my ticket to becoming an usher.  One Sunday, after my baptism, a well dressed elderly man approached me and inquired if I wanted to be an usher.  Sure.

Being an usher meant that I got out of Sunday School early.  It also meant that I did not have to participate in the first 1/2 of the worship service.  Ushers sat people, opened and closed the doors, watched coats, passed out bulletins, took calls from the pastor (more about this in a moment), took up the offering, and (wait another moment for the last part).

The Phone: My home church was quite large, anywhere between 250-400 every Sunday.  Beside the chair where the pastor sat was a secret phone that connected to the the narthex where the ushers hung out.  Oh the fun the ushers had ignoring the calls from the pastor.  During an anthem or a hymn he would pick up the phone and call the ushers and they wouldn't answer (on purpose), and the pastor's face would get red and they would laugh and giggle, and the pastor would get even angrier, then finally they would pick up and make up some tale about not hearing the pastor's call.  And now here is the greatest part of ushering: the after offering gathering.

After we took up the offering we descended steps that took us under the sanctuary & into a special Sunday School room.  A Sunday School room that was filled with coffee, orange juice, and donuts.  It was amazing.  And now here is the best part: we ate donuts until the sermon was finished.  Each week someone would stay behind in the narthex then run down and tell us when the last hymn started. By the third verse began the entire army of ushers were standing ready to open doors, take bulletins, help with coats, and say goodbye to the exiting attendees.  This bliss lasted for about three months until the spouse of one of staff members caught wind of this bliss.  Apparently, she thought I had not suffered enough listening to below average sermons about hell and perdition.  She suggested that I not usher any longer.  

Who knows maybe what she did was a blessing?  Perhaps if she had not made me relinquish my donut bliss I would still be an unknowing conservative Baptist.  In fact, I would think that church was greatest church in the world, who wouldn't?  Donuts > Sermon.  She blessed me, only probably not in ways she imagined - but that is the nature of grace, untameable and unknowable.

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