There is a 7:30 mass -- 7:30 in the morning, mind you. The sexton has kindly come early to open the chapel door and turn on the lights, and the windows glow -- soft, warm, welcoming -- as I make my way from the rectory across the dark churchyard. I find the vesting room and locate an alb that will fit.
There was a pizza dinner last night and a lovely dessert was made -- chocolate fruit bars. But we so gorged ourselves on pizza that nobody ate them, and so I have an entire tray. Perhaps I can sell a slight continental breakfast to the tiny congrgation: bars and coffee and tea. And I can: we sit and chat and nibble, and one of the women takes a plate of bars home for her boyfriend, who will arrive from Chicago later today.
The parish secretary arrives early, too, to meet the man who will deliver and explain the new copy machine. She listens intently as he expounds its mysteries, and soon it is racing through the Sunday bulletin, swift and silent in comparison with the tired thump of the old one. There will be a home visit later this morning, for which I will need detailed driving instructions, and someone comping in to chat. Another parish day begins.
How I miss it! This brief season of filling in for a friend has been sweetness itself: the sea of people flowing in and out of the church, the clumps of coffee drinkers after the services, the obvious love everyone has for their parish. Will you ever go back, someone asks me once in a while? Will you ever be the rector of a parish again?
Oh, I don't know, I always say. But I look at my energy level and my speaking schedule, my writing obligations, my spiritual direction load. All that would have to change, especially the energy part. It is likely that I will be a visitor for the rest of my ministry, entering into a parish's life for a moment or two and then moving on to another one. Bringing some good news, if all goes well, and then never really knowing what happens to it after I leave.
One thing you come to understand when you come and go like that is that a community's ongoing life is tough and strong; it's got legs, as they say in the theatre, and the people themselves are the ones who comprise it. It may look like it's the leader, and the leader is a very important person, but it's really the people. You are, yourself, but a moment in their lives, even if your moment is a long one. To have been that moment, for however long the blessing of it was given, was a delight.