I forgot to bring black shoes to the beach and didn't even think about it until Sunday morning at 5:30, when it was time to head up the parkway for the 8:00 service. Oh, dear. It promised to be hot as Hades again, of course, and things are a little looser in church when it's hot, but still: nobody in seminary ever said anything about the celebrant wearing pink flip-flops in the summer.
Well, they do match your toes, the deacon said supportively. And if it were Mothering Sunday you could even say it was a liturgical color. It wasn't Mothering Sunday, though; it was the Thirteenth Sunday in Pentecost, a blistering mid-August day.
I remembered another August Sunday years ago: summer youth work in a seaside church. A handsome boy showed up for church in blue blazer and khaki trousers, the preppy summer uniform. From the ankles up, that is -- I couldn't help noticing that he wore no shoes. But I was thrilled to see him: he had not yet joined in any of the youth activities that season -- he was visiting his grandmother for the summer, and didn't know the other kids very well. Still, I had been hopeful; my exchanges with him had been brief and careful, but pleasant, and now here he was. Good. I hoped to see him at the picnic after church, I said, and he nodded and smiled a little.
His grandmother descended upon me like Grant through Richmond. Had I noticed that he was wearing no shoes?!? Hadn't I said anything to him? She'd never seen such a thing in all her life. She shook her head, her mouth a thin, straight line, and sat down in her pew, her back stiff as a poker.
I imagined the conversation in the house getting ready to come to church.
Time to get ready.
Coming. The thunder of feet on the stairs.
A pause. You are not wearing those sneakers to church. Now go up and change, please, and I'll see you there.
An answering pause. Okay. More feet, back up the stairs.
And he didn't wear the sneakers. He didn't wear any shoes at all.
I thought of him as I layered my vestments on over my clothes. It would be hot at eight, but not as hot as it would be at ten. The layers keep us cool, clergy say in jest, which makes no sense but actually seems to work. You don't get hot up there.
In procession, I tried not to let my pink sandals flap against my heels. But they hit smartly with every step I took: up the aisle, to the pulpit, up to the altar, back and forth across the communion rail. My pink toes peeked out at the faithful from under the crisp white hem of my alb.
Ah, well. Wear what you have. Dress up or down. But come. It's so good to see you.