Last Saturday I had the most delightful surprise. I was scheduled to officiate at Evening Prayer at four P.M. at the Cathedral, one of the Cathedral Vergers being out of town and the other occupied with a wedding. All day long, during the parish cleanup day at St. Alban’s, I kept reminding myself not to forget. I was apprehensive about forgetting because I did forget on a previous occasion. I had left the Close and was shopping in some store at Baileys Crossroads when I happened to look at my cell phone and saw a calendar entry telling me that I was supposed to be officiating evening prayer in about 45 minutes. I abandoned my shopping cart and headed straight for my car and with great thought about which route to take that would have the least chance of a traffic tie-up made it to War Memorial Chapel, vested and ready, with time to spare. There were only a handful of people there. In my experience doing this I’ve had as many as five or six and as few as just one other. But that doesn’t matter. I am a firm believer that scheduled services have to happen, “come hell or high water” as we said back in Texas, even if no one is there other than the officiant. So, back to last Saturday, about 3:15 I had finished putting away all the materials that had been dragged out for cleanup day, headed for the Slype, vested, marked the books, and headed for Bethlehem Chapel about 3:45, after making the announcement in the nave, just before the organist began the prelude before the wedding, inviting people to Evening Prayer. When I arrived at the chapel, there was one other person there, a young man. We nodded to each other, and I took my place at the officiant’s prayer desk, and read through the lessons, from Micah and from Luke, and the reading in “Holy Women, Holy Men” about Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, the convert from Judaism who emigrated from Lithuania to the United States, became an Episcopalian, graduated from General, went to China as a missionary, became Bishop of Shanghai, and translated the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and other works into Mandarin and Wenli, typing 2000 pages with one finger of one partially paralyzed hand after suffering a stroke. About 10 til, a large group of young people, middle-schoolers, came into the chapel. I took them to be a tour group at first. “Hmm. No docent,” I thought. “Perhaps they have their own guide, who will show up in a few more moments and start talking. Perhaps they don’t know something is about to happen here. I made the announcement upstairs at a quarter of; maybe they came in after that or weren’t paying attention, and didn’t they hear it. This could be awkward. It’s about time to begin.” They filed into the rows of seats on the north side, and sat down, and sat there very quietly.. And no one started talking about the chapel, or Admiral Dewey, or all the tour guide stuff. “Hmm,” I thought again, “can it be? Are they here for Evening Prayer?” We all sat there quietly for a while and at about five til, I got up and approached them and asked if they were here for Evening Prayer. They nodded and said they were. I was greatly delighted and said so, that it was wonderful to have them there, that sometimes I had had no one else to do this with. I asked where they were from, and they said Raleigh, North Carolina. Well, I said further, let’s have half of you move over to the other side of the chapel. It doesn’t have to be exactly half, I said, you’ll see why in a few minutes. They did. And I then asked who would like to read the lessons, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. I waited, and a girl put up her hand. I called her to the lectern. Who else, I said. Another period of waiting, and a boy put his hand up, and I called him forward too I showed them the lessons and how they were marked, and told them at what point they would occur, Micah after the Psalm, and Luke after the Magnificat. After about a minute of silence, I began, right at four, by reading to them about Schereschewsky, interspersing the reading with ad libs. to put things in context, such as the year of his coming to America, 1854, being just before the Civil War and highlighting his remarkable feat of learning Mandarin, even writing it, on his first voyage to China. When we got to the Psalm, I explained how we would do it, antiphonally, by whole verse, alternating by sides of the aisle. I was glad it was a long one, 104, so they could get into the rhythm of antiphonal recitation, which they did with considerable facility. The readers came forward on cue and read well. Only one needed a little assistance with the marking of the text, as there were omitted verses. Everyone all joined in the Mag and the Nunc, the Creed, and the Prayers, saying the Responses in the Suffrages. I invited them to join in saying together the Collects, the second prayer for mission, the General Thanksgiving, and the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom. I said the concluding prayer, and we were done. I put out the candles, and again expressed my great delight that they were there. I approached one of the adults and asked her many there were, since I hadn’t counted and needed it for the Service Register. She said 43; that they are an 8th grade confirmation class; have been staying downtown at Epiphany; and were headed back home tomorrow morning. I am so very, very very glad I didn’t forget.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC