Called into service

Ed Smith
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Poor Daughter Number Three! Daughter Number Three had a rather difficult Sunday morning last week. She was home for the Christmas holidays, of course, and pitching in here and there to be as much help as she could to her mother. And mothers need all the help they can get at Christmas.
So do fathers, and thereby hangs the tale.
I was asked by my friendly neighbourhood minister to take the service last Sunday morning. Some of you are probably thinking, if you're not exactly saying it out loud, that there goes the last remaining sliver of credibility in the United Church.
But then you'd also have to say the same for my friendly neighbourhood minister and that wouldn't be nice at all. In fact, I think she'd take umbrage.
I was asked to fill in because our minister was away that Sunday. Interestingly, she also doubles as organist and choir director when the need arises. We have two choir directors and organists most of the time, but this time they were all gone.
Enter Daughter Number Three.
Back in her high school days, Daughter was one of our musicians in the church and played regularly for the choir and services.
Her father (me) seized upon this fact and before Daughter was quite off the plane, asked her if she'd play for the Sunday he had to "keep church." It was really no surprise that she said yes, but added that she was pretty rusty because she hadn't played for a congregation in many years.
From my own small involvement in church music, I knew that playing for congregational singing was a whole different quintal of fish. But she said she'd give it her best shot if I got the hymns to her in plenty of time for her to practice. "No problem," I said. And oh yes, by the way, I asked if she would read one of the scripture lessons as well.
Comes Sunday morning. I was down there bright and early, although Daughter was almost late. But she got there in time, opened up a service bulletin, read down through it and said, "What's this thing we're supposed to sing after the offering?"
Goodnight Irene! I'd forgotten all about our sung response to the offering.
"It's to the tune of 'In the Bleak Midwinter'," I said apologetically. "You know that tune?"
"I guess we'll find out," she said.
Then I remembered something else. "We always sing one verse of a hymn as an introit, Jenny."
She gave me a not entirely pleasant stare. "Oh? And what would that be?"
"Joy to the World."
"I haven't played that in a long time, Father."
I know when she calls me "Father" that I'm not entirely in her good graces.
"Look," I said. "Just give us an opening chord and we'll take it from there."
"Right," she said.
Anyway, she went out to the church and launched into an excellent prelude. I went out shortly after, said good morning, announced the introit, which she got through pretty well, and announced the first hymn.
Daughter just about fell backwards off the piano stool. That wasn't the hymn I had given her to practice. Panic! She thought she was losing it and couldn't even remember what the original hymn looked like. She just knew this wasn't it.
Frantically, she thumbed through the hymnal, found the one I had just announced and with a fervent prayer launched into it. (I know all this makes me look bad, which is perhaps the understatement of the Christian year thus far.)
We came to the part where one of the church ladies was telling a story to the children. It was interesting, but from the corner of my eye I saw Daughter reach behind her and try to open the door to the minister's office. That was locked. What was she up to? Then she got up off the stool and came down around to the other door and turned it. Also locked. She walked across behind the pulpit and out the door to the choir room. She was gone a few moments and then returned. She walked partway back to the piano, then stopped and went out to the choir room again.
I was intensely curious by this time.
Finally, she came down to the front where I was sitting and announced in a sibilant whisper, "I can't find the music to 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'."
I had planned to work a singing of that lovely carol into my meditation, but obviously that was out the window.
"I've looked in every corner of this church," she whispered, "and I can't find it anywhere."
"Don't worry about it," I said, immensely relieved that this was something that wasn't my fault.
Came the time for the scripture readings. Daughter looked idly down the page of the service bulletin to see who might be doing this stuff, and to her horror found her name opposite one of the lessons.
She remembered I had casually asked her to do that when she first came home, but I hadn't thought of it since. The time to read was practically upon her. Desperately, she got the attention of someone in the choir. More desperate whispers.
"Anyone back there got a Bible?!" Someone hurriedly handed her a Bible with the foresight to have it open to the reading in question, and Daughter read it as though she had written it.
With all the walking back and forth, Daughter found her left foot hurting. She glanced down at her feet. The shoe on her right foot was hers. The shoe on her left was not. In all the flurry leaving the house she had put on one of her mother's shoes.
That was not my fault, either!
It was for Daughter a memorable service, one she isn't likely to forget for a very long time. Neither will I.
The rest of the family will see to that.

Ed Smith lives in Springdale.
His e-mail address is

Organizations: United Church

Geographic location: Springdale

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