Today, though, we were scheduled to usher so we had to show up, and I’m really glad we did. I might have known things would go well when I was able to pin on my usher’s boutonniere without stabbing myself. When Twin Cities organist and composer Paul Manz died recently, I thought about suggesting to our organist that he play some of Manz’s work. I didn’t have to do it, though, as our prelude this morning was Manz’s Partita on St. Anne – a tribute to one fine organist from another.
We’re in the middle of a three-week series on the Book of Ruth, and the children’s time featured a puppet show telling the story of Ruth and Naomi. The puppets, made by a church member and recently donated, were near life-sized so that I could see them even from my usher’s station near the entrance doors. I hope we’ll see those puppets again!
In our denomination, the sermon is central to worship, and today we heard a sermon that spoke to my condition and, from what I heard, to others’ as well. Today’s Scripture reading was Ruth 2, and the sermon title was Gleanings. The minister began by quoting Karl Barth, that one should write sermons with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. She then expertly related the themes of Ruth to three major headlines of this past week: the repeal by 52% of the voters of Maine’s same-sex marriage law; the tragic shootings at Fort Hood; and the announcement of double-digit unemployment. She gave us a word of comfort, a word of warning, and a word of exhortation – and most of all, a word of hope.
Taking up the offering is the part of ushering I dread, since we use those baskets on sticks and I’m usually afraid I’ll poke somebody with them. But today I was able to forget myself because the choir was singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of Walt Whitman’s Dirge for Two Veterans. Like the sermon series, the offertory had been planned weeks or months in advance, in this case for the Sunday nearest to Veterans’ Day. As happens surprisingly often, the music was exactly appropriate for this particular day (and beautifully performed, as well). As the service drew to its close, I noticed some welcome changes – we sang Marty Haugen’s “As the grains of wheat” as the offertory response, and the choir replaced the benediction response that I’d been getting a little sick of with the familiar three-fold Amen.
In the afternoon, I returned to church for an Ecclesiastical Council. This is the next-to-last hoop to be jumped through for candidates seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ. (The last one is to be called to a church or other ministry setting.) I’ve been to several of these in the past, but this one was special. My friend A., the candidate, was one of the girls who made friends with me when I arrived at a new high school midway through my senior year. I’ve always remembered something from the description under her yearbook picture: “Striving for: servantship in a world of dirty feet.” After college she took a graduate degree in Christian Education at the Lutheran seminary in Chicago (where a cousin of Onkel Hankie Pants was one of her professors), then returned to Maine, raised three fine sons with her husband, and worked in Christian education for two UCC churches and then the Maine Conference. At our 40th high school reunion she told us she was returning to seminary to prepare for ordination.At an Ecclesiastical Council, the candidate reads her/his ordination paper, which includes, among other things, a statement of faith, a discussion of one’s call to ministry, and further statements about the candidate’s theology and understanding of ministry. The candidate can then be questioned by the clergy and lay delegates and then a vote is taken. A.’s paper was excellent, as I knew it would be, but I was even more impressed by her answers to some difficult questions posed (not in a hostile manner) by the delegates. Of course, she was unanimously approved, and some church in these parts will be very fortunate to get her as their pastor and teacher. I went home rejoicing, feeling much better about the church both universal and particular, its future, and my part in it.