I should be an Episcopalian. I've known that for years and just haven't done anything about it. It's not especially easy to be one of those in this part of the world. Not especially hard, either, but not easy. My world has shifted pretty dramatically in the last seven days and it seemed like now would be the perfect opportunity to correct this oversight and join up with the smells and bells crowd.
The closest Episcopal church is 20 miles away in Fake Cow City. I checked the website and found the service starts at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. Perfect time. I'd been sloughing off of services at the Catholic Church I'd been nominally attending partly because it started at 9:00 and I had to be to intentional about getting out of bed to get there on time. Truthfully, that isn't the only reason I was seldom attending church, but it's as valid as any of the others.
Sunday morning I got dressed, hopped on my motorcycle and rode west. When I got to the church I was surprised to find that no one was there. I must have had the time wrong, but no. I checked the sign out front and it said 10:00 a.m. in big bold letters. Checked my phone - 9:48 a.m.
I circled the block and saw two cars parked on the side, towards the back. I groaned. Great, just great. I rode around the block. I needed a crowd, somewhere I could be inconspicuous and just go along with the flow, not standing out.
After circling the block again and seriously considering going back home, I came up on the two cars again and pulled off into the parking lot. A moment's thought and I decided take the plunge. I'd probably regret it, but I'd come this far and I was damn well darkening the church door before heading back home. I started to park next to them, but the cars were on an incline that would have asked far more than my kickstand could reasonably be expected to provide. I made the block once more , still debating returning home.
This time I parked in front of the church and removed my helmet. My hair was everywhere all at once. (I really need a haircut, but the earliest appointment I could get was October 9th. October 9th! Honestly! There cannot be enough blue-hair traffic in my county to fill a hairdresser's schedule three weeks in advance, even though the county is named after a barber!)
After corralling the wayward tresses with a hair band, I slung my back pack on my shoulder and climbed the stairs to the Gothic doors. As I reached for the handle, I paused and glanced back at the bike.
This is America, the South and it's the year 2015.
I was about to enter a small church service carrying an incongruously firearm sized bag. I was dressed in biker boots and a leather jacket. And we've already mentioned my crazy lady hair. Briefly I considered leaving the bag on the bike, but that was akin to leaving your purse on the hood of the car while doing your grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. So, trusting that my middle-aged white-lady status would trump the crazy-ass church shooter vibe, I opened the doors.
It was at that moment that I realized how seriously non-high church Fake Cow City really is. Episcopalians are very few and far between. I found myself striding down the aisle, closer and closer to the front than I'd had any intention of sitting.
"Come on in," a friendly woman waved me forward. "There are plenty of seats!"
There were more than plenty. There were all of them.
Only three people occupied the space, all crowded around the lectern. One man and two women.
The friendly woman met me in the aisle and introduced herself. The man was her husband and he would be doing the readings. Their companion was going to read a sermon. The priest was not present this week. She serves one week a month at a larger church in another city, so they do only morning prayer on the weeks she is gone.
Some of the parishioners don't especially care for the morning prayer service and this accounted for the sparse gathering that morning. "Although," the woman explained somewhat sheepishly, "for us, seven is a full crowd."
I managed a breath and a weak smile, and parked myself on the nearest pew, about a quarter of the way back from the front. My back pack landed heavily with a suspiciously metallic thump, on the pew beside me. I have no idea what made the metallic sound but when it happened, I involuntarily glanced at the man at the pulpit. He glared at me. Seriously glared.
His wife and their friend blathered on gregariously and more than conquered my initial discomfort, but the guy and I? We'd shared A Moment.
The three of them had been debating vigorously the readings for the day. As in, which ones were they to do. The wife thought she'd printed them for the husband to read, but they'd been lost somewhere along the way and he was not the sort to improvise. It was obvious he did not have an improvisational cell in the whole of his being. Not one. The lack of a ritualistic road map proved problematic.
I watched an listened and tried to figure out how it could possibly matter one way or another when it had been just the three of them present when the scope of the liturgical tragedy was discovered and initially discussed. They could have read pretty much anything. Or nothing. And it wouldn't have really mattered.
(Perhaps I have a ways to go before achieving full-on Episcopalian sensibility. Maybe a long ways.)
As the husband and the companion were debating the scripture choice, the wife engaged me with lots of friendly questions. I could see the husband keeping a cautious eye on me from his pulpit perch. When I told her what I did for a living - that I was the chief probation officer for four neighboring counties - the man visibly relaxed. I'm pretty sure he'd been holding his breath. I caught his eye and grinned.
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," he said, referencing my occupation. "Then you'll understand this."
He reached into the lectern and pulled out a .45 automatic which he brandished in my general direction before laying it on top his copy of the Book of Common Prayer. "Some day someone may come in here shooting. But they aren't going to get out of here alive."
He did. Yes, he did. He pulled a gun on me right there in front of God and everybody.
But I had the best time and we're buds now and I'm pretty damn sure I'm going back again next Sunday.