After I retired as a parish priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, I was invited to become a honorary assistant at our local church. This is really cool. I get to do the things I enjoy and that give me most sense of fulfilment and I don’t have the responsibility for the parish. Except, that is, when the Rector is away on holiday and the honorary assistants share pastoral and liturgical responsibilities.
Last Sunday I was presiding at the Eucharist (taking the service) and preaching. What I had forgotten last Saturday was that I was to lead the Prayers of the People as well. I was preparing my sermon; the Gospel reading was Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water. The disciples were struggling to keep the boat moving forward into a great wind and huge waves when Jesus came to them walking over the waves. I wanted to open my sermon with a storm or rough sea story. But the only ones I could remember were far too long. God willing a story would come to me overnight. Be careful what you pray for. When I had finished preparing my sermon it was about 10:30 at night. I suddenly remembered the prayers of the people. That is, I remembered I needed to prepare them. There are a number of cycles of churches and people that we pray for throughout the year and I needed to look these up and enter them into a suitable prayer format. I then needed to write prayers that I thought would represent the concerns our parishioners would want to pray about that week.
I finally completed this task and printed out the page of prayers.
My desk was a mess, even more than usual, I had sermon notes, quotations, bible references and discarded ideas scattered everywhere. I bundled up what I thought I would need for the morning and put them next to where I would be eating my breakfast. I dragged my sorry self to bed about an hour and half later than I wished.
Next morning I reviewed my sermon notes, changed some thoughts, and decided to discard all the pages of notes I no longer needed. I enjoyed ripping them up and throwing them in waste bin (I’ll recycle them don’t worry – not the ideas the paper). I still didn’t have an opening for my sermon time.
Susan and I went to the church early so I could print enough copies of a handout I wanted to share with the congregation. The copier said “Paper Jam, follow the on-screen instructions”. “I don’t have time for this” I thought, starting to feel a little more pressure than before. After the machine had messed with my head for about five minutes it decided it wasn’t jammed after all and could print the copies. I think it was machine procrastination. Susan offered to use the guillotine to cut the pages in half, as I had not wanted to waste paper and toner and had made the handouts to fit a half sheet. I was grateful as this would give me time to go through a checklist in the church.
I went into the worship space and prepared my altar book, had a quick practice at singing the Eucharistic prayer, checked my microphone was working and that everything was ready for the altar. I then went to the rector’s office for a little calm time and to scan my sermon notes one more time.
It was then I discovered or rather didn’t discover my Prayers of the People “found that horn, gone” (see Flanders and Swann). I looked through all my papers and they just weren’t there. There was no way I could remember all I had prepared, especially all the names and places. I think I may have become a little tense.
I calmly (I’m sure it was calmly) explained my predicament to Susan. It was about 35 minutes before the service was to begin. She offered to drive home and see if she could find the prayers. That was agreed and I told her they should be on the breakfast table, but could be on my desk – but I was afraid I may have ripped them up with the discards.
Susan left. A parishioner was there who wanted to talk to me about a pastoral concern, which we did. I went back to the office when suddenly the phone rang. Ring Ring. Ring Ring. I went over to the rector’s desk to answer the phone, probably someone calling to ask the time the service started, but the ringing wasn’t coming from her phone it was coming from the other side. I picked up her phone to be sure, and there was just a dial tone, and the ring ring kept going.
I ran out into the entrance lobby, and there was the phone ringing still. I realized it could be Susan. But we don’t have a phone in the entrance lobby. There is one in the church hall so I ran into the church hall, ring ring, but the ringing wasn’t coming from the hall phone, it was coming from the other side. “What’s going on I cried”. I lifted the receiver from the hall phone to make sure, and the whole phone came off the wall. I tried putting it back which wasn’t as easy as it should be. Ring Ring. ” Well for Pete’s sake”. Yes, yes, I probably shouldn’t have said that. I raced back towards the office when I had a sudden revelation. I say suddenly, but can you picture my little brain stepping through the thoughts. That ‘ring ring’ sounds familiar, it seemed to be everywhere I went, and it was just like the ring tone of my iPhone. I was carrying my iPhone in a hip holster. Not a trendy 70s thing, one that clips onto your belt at the hip.
My iPhone was on my hip. Doh! I bet Susan was trying to reach me on the mobile.
Sure enough “Missed calls”. I called Susan at home. It turned out she had found three pieces of the torn up prayers in the waste bin, but there was no sign of the rest. Time was marching on, I was getting almost a little frantic.
I calmly asked her to boot up the computer and said I would help her find the document so she could print it. I suggested she turn on the printer as well, so it would be ready. I won’t bore you with the dialogue that ensued, which was probably similar to many help desk conversations, (look for the little icon thingy with a pencil in it – no just right-click on it…what do you mean the print function just goes away?) but eventually the document was retrieved and printed and Susan was on her way back to the church.
Susan arrived back in time for the service. The storm had passed!
Later I started my sermon “Be careful what you pray for…”