Yesterday, I had the most fun (and least solemn) Ash Wednesday service ever.
Due to the small size of the congregation, our church can’t afford a full-time pastor. We share him with a church that’s half-Spanish and half-English-speaking. That church also has a Spanish-speaking pastor. The outcome of all this is that on special days when we can’t have different schedules, we are forced to have combined, bilingual services.
That’s not a problem for me – I understand Spanish quite well and speak it well enough to be understood by most Spanish speakers. But from a scheduling and organization standpoint, it’s a nightmare.
I was scheduled to be the deacon for the 7 PM combined service last night. I got there at 6:30 to find most people already there. Apparently, they thought there was going to be soup served beforehand for some reason. I met the Spanish-speaking pastor from the other church and found him to be a very amiable and easy-going king of guy. He had just come from a wedding in Appleton and had forgotten his purple minister’s stole, so he wore the rainbow side of his white stole, which I thought was quite beautiful and, reflecting on it now, quite appropriate for the service.
The entire service was printed in the bulletin and we followed word-for-word. The band (including drums, guitar, keyboard, and piano) was on its own schedule, apparently, and were not playing the prelude when the Three Amigos (me, Pastor P., and Paster S.) proceeded to the altar to make reverence. The normal procedure for First Lutheran Church when there’s no prelude is for the deacon to proceed to the lectern and begin the announcements, which is what I did. The pastor then said that I was 10 minutes early and we needed a prelude. The band wasn’t ready and so took a while to get a prelude together.
The band was actually quite good – they played well and sang beautifully. I could appreciate the music (classic Latino church music) but many of the elderly members of First Lutheran Church, who were used to organ or piano hymns, found it a bit unusual to put it mildly.
At any rate, the service began quite normally with Pastor P. leading the English liturgy and Pastor S. leading the Spanish liturgy and me leading the congregational responses for both. During the gospel reading, due to a poorly-formatted page break, the Pastor announced the end of the reading, turned the page, and then announced “Oh, here’s more Gospel of the Lord!” Everyone laughed at this. It went down hill from there.
The three years previous, the ashes were mostly dry with maybe a drop of oil. This year, they had the consistency of pesto sauce. Consequently, no one got a cross on their forehead – most got sort of drippy octopi. I manned the paper towel station for anyone who wanted to wipe the drips off their eyebrows and noses.
The communion wasn’t much better. We obtained a volunteer acolyte at the last minute and had not planned for her. The members of the Spanish-language church traditionally took the wine directly from the chalice (any many took a LOT of wine – just sayin’). Our members are used to taking a small (0.3oz) plastic serving cup of wine from a tray that the deacon offers. Many of our members were confused and ended up taking both the chalice and the plastic cup. We ended up refilling the chalice from the plastic cups several times during the service. The pastors and deacon are supposed to commune prior to the table service but due to the organizational mess, that part got skipped. The acolyte didn’t collect any empty cups that evening – those who took cups left the table immediately for some reason and I don’t know where the plastic cups ended up.
The pastors explained that when the congregation was dismissed, they were to leave in silence. We dismissed the congregation and the band immediately began playing. For some reason that’s still not clear. The first thing that happened is that it turned into a social hour with nobody leaving and everyone standing around gabbing.
Afterward, the Spanish-speaking pastor remarked to me “¡Debe haber silencio! ¿Por qué no hay silencio?” I responded “Nunca ha habido silencio aquí.” He asked “¿Es una iglesia o es un mercado?” I told him “Es debido a las ancianas.” He suggested (in English) making the sign of the cross over their mouths with duct tape. I like this Spanish-speaking pastor.
The service was fun and filled with laughter, which is the last thing you want for an Ash Wednesday service, whose message is “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”