At the request of one of my sons, I chose this topic for today's blog. When you're as old as I and been to as many church services as I, by sheer rules of probabilities, you are going to witness moments in church where Murphy's Law reigns supreme. Here are 4 I remember.
1. My uncle Raymond was a funny guy who was a born cut-up. But he was deadly serious about his assignment in church. He sat at the back of the auditorium and controlled four dials on a wall...which in turn controlled the various microphone volumes at the front. One Sunday evening, I was a bit late getting there, but wanted to sit with the other high-schoolers down front. It was deathly quiet because we did a Sunday night communion for those who slept in on Sunday morning. Note: Everyone would crane their necks looking around to see who the sinners were because they were asked to stand in order to be served.
Anyway, my path to the front took me past Raymond. As I approached, he just happened to be in the middle of an arms extended skyward stretch. He could afford to do this because he was at the back. When I came astride him, I spontaneously and without aforethought, raised my right elbow and softly (I thought) gave him a nudge just under his rib cage. Well, it must have been a bit more powerful than I thought. The entire contents of his lungs emptied in a throaty roar that sounded like a mating hippo. The entire congregation turned as a unit to see from whence came the volcanic sound. Raymond was doubled over as though in convulsive laughter, except it wasn't funny to him. To make matters worse, long after decorum had been restored to the assembly, I simply couldn't keep my composure as I sat in my front seat. Later, I got it real bad from my mom, a cold, humorless woman.
2. I'm taking my grandmother's word on this next one. She said that one Sunday morning at the Garland Rd. congregation, a visitor of some import was asked to lead the opening prayer. The prayer would follow the usual introductory welcome by the minister. The esteemed prayer guy got a seat on the podium almost directly under the baptistry. The minister has just finished this sentence, "We would like to extend a most cordial welcome to our visitors," when someone from the back of the building, well behind the baptistry, opened a door. A fierce north wind was blowing that morning and someone had left the door to the baptistry open. The sudden gust toppled over a potted plant that had been positioned on ledge of the baptistry and it proceeded to land upside down on the head of the esteemed prayer guy. A cordial vistors' welcome, indeed!
3. I remember a particular communion segment at Peak and Eastside, my home congregation. You must know going in that the sanctuary featured a rather severe incline, back to front, the front being lower. Someone toward the rear dropped a collection plate, one of those shiny metal ones with a felt bottom. Incredibly, it didn't just lay there in a pile of coins...it rolled on its edge to the front of the auditorium. The sound was not that different from a slow bowling ball making its way down the lane. How it missed 59 pairs of legs, I don't know. And when it finally got to the end of its journey, it started doing one of those gyroscope-type spins, with the wah-wah-wah sounds getting closer and closer together. Finally, it was over. The entire sequence took probably 25 seconds and few in the audience were able to maintain their stiff Church of Christ demeanor.
4. At Peak and Eastside (btw, our softball team mascot name was the Pekineses), we didn't get air-conditioning until the early 60's. So in the hot months, all windows were opened and the foyer doors left open to hopefully catch an occasional breeze. One Sunday morning, a lonely dog must have been curious as to what was going on up there. There were 22 stair steps leading up to the foyer entrance. After climbing those steps, the dog encountered one Harry Griffith, a deacon whose church status, yea even his salvation, hung by a thread because he was a smoker. Harry's job was hang in the foyer area, answer any phone calls, assist any nursing mom to the cry room, and collect communion trays. He was the pharoah of the foyer.
The pooch seemed to have designs on entering the sanctuary, so Harry reached down to grab him. But this was a quick dog...ugly, but quick. It eluded Harry's grasp. The sanctuary had three seating sections and two aisles, identical to a typical high school auditorium. The dog headed for aisle separating the center section from the right section. Brother Griffith had an instant dilemma. "Do I let him enter the worship area and hope he quickly retreats, or do I chase after him?" Much to the delight of us young people, Harry chose the chase. The dog quickly realized what was happening and took off for the front. The minister was in mid-sermon. As long as I am allowed to live on this gorgeous planet, I will never be able to erase from my memory the sight of this middle-aged deacon sprinting down the aisle with arthritic abandon after that dog. The dog circled the communion table in a fashion not too dissimilar to Jeff Gordon racing through the high-banked oval at Daytona. Harry by this time was too far into this thing to quit now, and probably was wishing that tobacco hadn't compromised his lung capacity. He threaded through the narrow space between the table and the podium where the minister was looking down in horror, his mouth agape. The doggie sped to the other aisle and made for the foyer from whence he came. Griffith now was a visual cartoon. I shall never forget the way his coat was flapping and how his tie had been swept over his shoulder and was whipping in the breeze. The pooch made it the exit and left behind a stunned audience, a minister who forgot where he was in the sermon, and a panting deacon who will live in church-house infamy.