107 Doubtful Joy

For Mrs. James, Sunday was turning out to be a deja-vu of the previous holiday Monday. Everybody else had something to do. At this rate, she’d be on the look-out for a new family to sit for. Today, Bert had invited Gina, then at the last minute Georgia, Greg and the girls out to visit at Asphodel Meadows. Gertie would be there, too. It was June now, and a beautiful summer day would see the girls on horseback for the first time. They were over the moon with excitement, and no longer teasing their Aunt Gina about her farmer friend. Mrs. James tried not to feel left out.Chapter 107 Doubtful Joy

Although her minding of Poppy and Pansy on Sundays had precluded her attending church, she religiously followed the liturgical calendar and readings established for each Sunday. Today’s told how Elijah had made bread for the widow, from a jar of meal and a jug of oil, and healed her ailing child.Ā  Mrs. James enjoyed the part about bread making, the Old Testament as cookbook.

The sudden shift in schedule for today had left her late for going to church, as that service would be already underway but it was still early enough in the day to make some other plans. The several references to widows in today’s readings put her in mind of her parish friend Betty, who was an indifferent attendee. Betty was a lively sort, always sticking her nose into new places, ‘ready for adventure’ as she called it. A perfect tonic for Mrs. James’ mood.

“Betty? It’s Ivy.” They paced themselves through the obligatory catch-up chat and moved quickly to the possibilities the day presented for a get-together. Not surprisingly, Betty had an idea of just what to do.

“Have you been hearing about this new church coming to town? It’s been on all over, but you never listen to talk radio, do you? It sounds way better than our dull routines. Lots more singing. Just getting ready to head out to their big, late morning Sunday service, out on the west side. I’ll pick you up in twenty minutes.” This was not exactly what she’d had in mind but a change of pace would likely do her good. She’d enjoy, for a time, a dose of Betty’s chatter. In the Epistle passage, the apostle Paul had gone out to visit other churches; if he could do it, it would be good enough for her.

The new church was apparently taking over an already established one; in any case, the building was not entirely new. It bore the appearance of a country manor house where over the centuries, various wings had flown up in stylistic departures from any previous ones, creating a hodge-podge, distinctive and perverse at the same time. She supposed the additions had arisen along with the astounding growth and financial success of the congregation. Quite the reverse to the situation of many buildings in theirs and other dioceses, where grand, coherent structures were solidly built in anticipation of the continued devotion of the faithful. Enthusiastically welcomed by a flank of greeters, they went inside and found a seat nearer the back, a preference of Mrs. James, who liked to see what was going on rather than being swept up in it.

There was no printed order of service. The rows of auditorium seating were loaded with brochures and song sheets, bulletins and donation envelopes, an airplane seatback pocket-like display of reading options should fervor wane. Feeling a little at sea, accustomed to a sturdy prayer book in her hands and a hymnal and a kneeler in the pew, Mrs. James folded her hands in her lap and watched. There was a large choir, in florid vestments of purple and gold. This was odd to her; if any colors other than white, as it was after Pentecost, they should be wearing green. Purple signified repentance. Not much sign of that; or wealth, purple signified wealth, too, as the dyes to make it were rare and costly, long ago. This must be the connection.

Her eyes floated up to the front over the thrusting stage, to a flag-size banner promulgating the dogma, Plenty for All, in similar hues. Plenty of ostentation was apparent, at the very least. Betty nudged her, directing her glance to the entrance of the officiants, then held her down as she, by habit, began to rise as the service began.

“Just follow along. It’s all different,” Betty whispered.

As it turned out, she was quite glad to be sitting down as it saved her collapsing with the shock of what she then saw, or rather whom she saw in the procession. Blonde above the gold and purple, ascending the stage with the church leaders stepped Kitty Doyle, and as if that were not enough to take in, trailing that pack of parading, lower order servants of God, strode Rod Thuss.

“So, that’s what he does,” she heard herself murmur. Betty hushed her, then added a comment of her own, whilst they were on the subject.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” They were in the back, after all, and no-one would hear them over the beginning music, ‘Jesus, fount of every blessing’. The words appeared like magic on a large screen on the stage, reminding her of the early TV shows where one was exhorted to ‘follow the bouncing ball’ in order to keep up with the lyrics.

Mrs. James was spell-bound in spite of herself, any basis for church comparison lost in the revelations of echoing worship. She barely recognized the hymn tunes but had to admit that they were catchy. ‘Let thy goodness, like a fetter’, it went on. Betty began to toss her head as she tried to join in the unfamiliar song. ‘Bind my wandering heart to thee.’ There onstage, belting out this intention, was Kitty. Really! Disbelieving but straining to hear the rest of the verse, as Betty clapped in rhythm beside her, she heard, ‘Here’s my heart, O seal and take it, seal it for thy courts above.’ Mrs. James wasn’t one to cast the first stone but this was not to be borne. Lucky for Kitty, who had a great deal to answer for, that Mrs. James wouldn’t be presiding on that particular celestial bench.

Although she was introduced as Kathy – a mistake? – Kitty’s minor role in the proceedings turned out be to lead the offertory, encouraging others to give freely. Mrs. James assumed that as Kitty behaved as though she had been born to get, not to give, that her true talents had been competently recognized by these leaders. Betty contentedly threw in her widow’s mite as the collection plate glistened in silvery passage along their row. Mrs. James did not.

A sample of a letter, from an association management entity, welcoming a new resident and outlining move-in requirements regarding utilities.

A sample of a letter, from an association management entity, welcoming a new resident and outlining move-in requirements regarding utilities.

The church pastor, Herb Minosa, introduced Rod Thuss to the assembled as a luminary welcomed to the area to conduct an upcoming ministry. Minosa exhorted everyone to return the following Sunday to hear more exciting details. Mrs. James wondered if there wasn’t a hint of resentment at turning over his pulpit-stage to a star-turn, especially one as god-like as Thuss, who chose as his text the passage from Psalms about joy coming in the morning. He left out the context, though, about the morning following a night of weeping. She knew because she’d just read it herself this morning. The Thuss exegesis was a sort of mindless happiness. She doubted this arrangement would ever exist for humans, even in this audience, but listened politely. There was a lot of amen-ing chorusing around her. Betty, enthralled, elbowed her again.

“The middle A. in his name, it’s for Amen.” A preacher, living in luxury at the POPS. So be it.