When these Cups were launched a few years ago one of the thoughts was that we writers would write about our ministries here. As faithful readers know, that isn’t always the case, but today I’ll be faithful to that.
How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Well, I’ve usually done it with four, but this past Saturday there were six of us: Rich Turner, Tom Mahaffey, Darin Bartram, Gray Maxwell, Jordy VandeBunte and yours truly. Four might have been enough, but it was good for even more to become acquainted with the process. Goodness, what bulbs are these, you ask? They are those over the altar, the choir pews, and the rafters above the transepts. This entails use of the church’s 32 foot extension ladder. Just moving it about requires several people.
This time I took a cue from a recent visit to Home Depot to buy some shelving. There was one package at floor level but others too high to reach without the assistance of store personnel. They used a powered lift. The lift had a platform about 5 feet square with rails around it, but the store worker who rode it up first put on a harness and connected himself to the railing with a strap. Falling, though unlikely even without the strap, was thus virtually impossible.
I’d been up and down our ladder many, many times in the last 10 years changing these bulbs and never employed any safety features such as I observed at Home Depot. From years of working on our multi-story house, I am very comfortable high up on a ladder.
But lately a couple of things are making me more safety conscious. Three or four years ago I took a fall changing a light bulb in the stairwell of Satterlee Hall. I wasn’t on a ladder, but had stepped up on a table and from the table to a big box. In coming back down, I stepped on the edge of the table instead of the middle, and the table turned over. I fell on the then-upright edge of the table, landing on my ribs, breaking two of them. The distance of my fall was probably less than four feet. That gave me a new personal perspective on falling. The other thing is that I’ve started to notice in the past year or two is that my sense of balance isn’t quite what it used to be.
So for this round of bulb changing, I went to Hudson Trail Outfitters and bought a climbing harness and a length of climbing rope. I have prior experience with a climbing harness from working every July on the roof of the three story farmhouse we used to own, a roof much too steep to stand on at all. With the rope over the top rung and me clipped to it with a carabiner, and with Rich Turner on the nave floor holding the rope, and the other guys holding the ladder and ferrying new bulbs up to me, this time I felt as secure as a babe in its mother’s arms.
I hasten to mention that some of the guys offered to go up the ladder in my place. I appreciated the offer but declined for many reasons. First, I was familiar with the fixtures into which the bulbs are screwed. The fixtures are in two pieces, held together by springs. They have to be pulled apart to get to the bulb. It sometimes takes two hands. I was able to demonstrate this to the guys on the floor, so they at least have seen it from a distance and this would be less of a factor in the future. Second, I’m not a lawyer, but I think there is a completely different liability picture for me, paid staff directing the activity, to be at risk versus a volunteer member of the parish. Third, I have a sense of how to do it carefully, and I have no way of surely knowing if someone else would have that same sense of caution, and I wouldn’t be – couldn’t be – right there to ensure completely safe procedure And, last, is just how I feel about it. There are probably two ways of looking at a risky activity. One is, “if anyone is going to get hurt or killed doing this I don’t want it to be me.” The other is, “if anyone is going to get hurt or killed doing this, I want it to be me.” For better or worse, I’m in the second group. If someone else went up the ladder and fell, I wouldn’t be able to bear it. I would not be able to face another day.
So I am grateful for Rich, Jordy, Gray, Darin, and Tom for making this a safe activity; and for Hudson Trail Outfitters for having what I needed to feel at ease 30 feet off the ground; and for Adrienne at HTO for getting me fitted with the right harness and the right rope.
And thanks be to God for the blessing of serving in this place we call St. Alban’s.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 21-October-2014.