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Sunday Singing, with Adventures [Dec. 21st, 2009|09:50 am]
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[Current Mood |tired]

The usual adventures were all generated by my being overtired already and headachy.  I needed to take more things to the city than usual:  my concert blacks, for the afternoon Messiah, and my choir robe, for church, and two sets of music--the folder for the church anthems and the Messiah score.   This required two tote bags, not just one, and so--in the early dawn, because I needed to leave at 7 am--I stuffed the bags and left my choir robe in its usual "home" post-laundry location. However...I drove off without the choir robe, realizing that only a mile away, so the drive back to get it didn't take that long--but did take more time.   Still I made it to rehearsal before the first service on time, despite hitting every red light on the way in.   I didn't realize--and wouldn't for hours--that although I had stuffed my concert blacks (Chico's wonderful travel knits) in one tote, I had not put in the short-sleeved black turtleneck that goes under the long-sleeved, longish, jacket-y thing that is worn open over the slacks and top.  That made for an interesting discovery when I was changing for the concert.  (Why, you may wonder, not wear the concert blacks all day?  I had another plan, that's why, and it was not a smart plan, in retrospect.) So...we had a decent-sized choir for the first service, and things were going smoothly until the sermon.   Now that church does have a number of street people who come to services, as well as out of town visitors from other denominations (there's a hotel right across the street) and sometimes they're vocal at parts of the service where Episcopalians usually aren't, including during the sermon.  So the loud "Amen!" and "Hallelujah!"  and "Preach it!" were, though not common, not unknown and created no stir.   For those unfamiliar with Episcopal services, they follow a predictable order, both through the year and within a given service (it's why we're one of the "liturgical" churches.)   After the sermon comes the confession of faith, in the form of the Creed.  (From the Latin "credo," "I believe...")   The whole congregation recites it together: "We believe in one God..."  etc, and for Episcopalians, the Creed remains, as Cranmer wrote centuries ago, the Creed (and not the Bible) is the foundation of Episcopal theology.   (Either the Nicene or Apostle's Creed--very similar but not identical)--counts.)   This is why the Biblical literalists are so annoyed with us.   There's no requirement to believe that every word was divinely inspired and represents absolute truth.  So we were a few phrases into it when suddenly the same voice that had shouted out before, shouted out much louder: "Liars!  Liars!  You're all liars!"  There was a moment of stunned silence, and then (with what I consider commendable attention to what's truly important) the recitation continued, as did the accusations, which escalated from there.   The person shouting was, from my position in the choir, out of my view unless I turned around (as I did, to check if he was displaying weapons, and then turned back.)  He had climbed into one of the window niches.  Like some others I talked to, we were praying that he didn't break that window and fall to his death--that window is high over a concrete-paved courtyard and falling backward his head would've burst like a melon.  Meanwhile, a quiet but purposeful movement of personnel took place--from my position I could see only part of it without staring.  Ushers moved up, clergy not actually speaking (one of the priests was leading the recitation) took the side exit out of the choir area to go help; one of the choir members, a psychiatrist, slipped out also and alerted the downstairs staff to call for backup and told the person in charge of the children's chapel (many children leave during the hymn before the Gospel reading so they don't have to listen to the sermon) not to send the children back until an all-clear.)   The man was finally removed from the window niche and carried out, still yelling.   I caught a glimpse of that.   The service went on, with a prayer offered for his welfare. By the end of the service,  the rector had given the whole congregation what information he could--the man  calmed down after a few minutes,  drank a glass of juice, and admitted he had "episodes."   Law enforcement finally arrived with their mental health officer (they had, apparently, told one of the church people on the phone that it wasn't a priority since the man hadn't injured anyone yet) and determined that he did, indeed, have a history of mental illness and was prone to violent outbursts.  In the meantime, the choir had sung "This Is the Truth Sent from Above" and the service had gone on to completion.   A quick breakfast then, and into second-service rehearsal.  In the interval there was discussion, of course.  The habit of self-examination reacts to accusations of lack of faith, of dishonesty in matters of faith, with thoughtful internal inquiries...how much of that was true?  Might be true?    Then the second service (which I'd hoped to skip but there weren't enough altos) and then it was time to get ready for the afternoon Messiah performance (sing-along, at another church, but for me as part of the supporting choir.)   I was already tired and craving a nap, but there wasn't time.  By the time I got to that church, it was after two, and that's when I discovered the lack of a critical piece of black clothing.  Luckily, that church's choir robes are black, so I suited up in one of them.  We sang more choruses than we had in the symphony performance...the soloists were excellent, the orchestra was excellent, and the audience a) came and b) nearly all sang and c) most of them knew what they were doing.   The music took over, and gave us the energy to keep going until the end.   A feature of this particular Sing-Along Messiah tradition is that there's a raffle for a chance to conduct another Hallelujah Chorus at the very end.   The winner has to wear David's sweaty coat, and get up on the podium and direct it.   Some have done brilliantly.  Some have been entered as a lark by friends and haven't a clue.  (I found out yesterday that one who had seemed clueless, years ago, was the brother-in-law of one of my alto friends.)   In that case, the orchestra and lead choir pretty much ignore the "director" and do it at the usual tempo in the usual way.  Yesterday's pick was rigged, however--the vestry and music director of the church where it was held had determined to surprise their rector.   He did quite well, though he wasn't looking at the music to cue that big long rest right before the final "Hallelujah" so when everyone stopped he looked around.  Quiet, quiet,....we all waited.  He finally caught on that he was going to have to cue that entrance, and did so with a big grin. Then some of us stayed to help move things back as they had been in the sanctuary and finally I left with Michael and drove home.   To pretty much collapse.   Still tired today.

[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-21 05:37 pm (UTC)
One of the things all churches should have learned--though some still haven't--is that anything that happens elsewhere might happen in church. Hence the need to check out those who work with children, for instance. Even though child sexual abuse in church contexts has been known about for decades, some churches are still sure it's only "those" people who have the problem. Sometimes churches in "nice" areas are sure no problem will ever touch them..."We're not a downtown church..."

Fact is, in our theology (not pushing this on anyone else) there's no source promising us freedom from problems..."Make sure you associate only with nice, problem-free people who are perfectly socially acceptable and agree with you on everything," just does not appear in the Gospels, for instance. So if we do what we're told (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, care for the sick and those in prison) we're going to be smack in the middle of other peoples' troubles, and at risk (that modern term!) of spillover.
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From: sunfell
2009-12-21 06:02 pm (UTC)
My dad learned the hard way that 'nice' churches are often the targets of crime. He left his car unlocked one Sunday, and got a lot of stuff stolen from his car- along with everyone else who'd left their cars unlocked.

That church got security the following week.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-21 06:16 pm (UTC)
Churches have learned not to leave offices unlocked (ditto with the thefts) and nobody should leave their car unlocked in any parking lot.

The church where I sing is a 'downtown' church, and the one where the Messiah was (where I'm actually a member) is partway out (no longer the edge of the city as it once was) but on a bus line. Both of them provide some accommodation for the homeless, particularly in severe weather, and that requires (besides a lot of volunteer help) additional security to prevent the sort of problems that arise with homeless persons who are scared, angry, physically and mentally ill, etc.
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-21 06:55 pm (UTC)
Churches are a lot like libraries that way. People think of libraries as safe buildings, but they're public buildings exactly the same way courthouses are -- and people don't leave their children alone at the courthouse. Speaking as a former librarian...

I'm glad your adventure ended the way it did.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-21 07:17 pm (UTC)
And so say all of us.

It was interesting, I thought, that my first look was to see if the guy was armed, and I could feel, as if the attention had been little flares, that every other military vet in the church was going the same thing (confirmed afterwards with one in the choir.) My head went immediately into "possible emergency action required" mode. So did the other guy's. So did (unless I'm crazier than the guy who yelled at us) at least two dozen other people in the congregation. I could point to where they were sitting.

It reminded me of a situation at a convention one time, when someone went off the rails and I was suddenly on alert--and so was another vet sitting next to me. Without saying a word, we were both "up"--and, moreover, the other vet had ceded command to me. Without speaking. (And that particular vet, though younger than I, had a higher active-duty rank. My age, or I was closer to the problem.)

Interesting what even a short, non-violent stint in the service can do for you.
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From: mmegaera
2009-12-21 09:28 pm (UTC)
Short and non-violent or not, thank you for your service to our country.

I live seven miles from Fort Lewis and McChord AFB here in Washington state, and I have observed the sorts of reactions you describe in the library where I used to work, on more than one occasion when we've had trouble.

On the brighter side, these are also the folks who finally got me used to being called "ma'am." I still don't feel old enough for the title, but at least I no longer look behind me to see who they're really talking to anymore...
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[User Picture]From: blitheringpooks
2009-12-21 07:20 pm (UTC)
That's one of many things I love about our theology. The Creed is another, and the liturgy another.

My church is an inner city church. I haven't witnessed anything as extreme as this, but we've had our moments.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-21 07:38 pm (UTC)
We have the big Salvation Army homeless shelter a block away...so maybe that's a factor for us. But then there've been armed crazies in churches built far from downtowns, so...
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