I woke up with a start in the middle of the night before my debut last Sunday as sub-deacon at St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood. I had gone through a training on Saturday evening after the Vigil mass with the Master of Ceremony, Efrain Cisneros, who was kind enough to stay late to help me be prepared for high mass on Sunday morning. I woke up suddenly because I had been dreaming of exactly what I was supposed to do and realized that I couldn’t remember a thing that Efrain had said. Every detail seemed to crisscross with every other detail and had coalesced into an indiscernible chunk of non-information in my brain. Oh dear. The good news was I was supposed to meet with Efrain again early Sunday morning to go back over the sub-deacon’s choreography. (There is a lot of standing, turning, kneeling, nodding, and walking that goes with this job.) Also, I needed to practice the world’s longest epistle, St. Paul’s conversion story, which I was to read to the congregation during mass. (It doesn’t help that this church is in Hollywood. The readings are usually assigned to the working actors in the congregation, whose resonant voices lend a dramatic flair to the King James Version of the Bible we Anglo-Catholics favor.) Alas, I headed to church early to meet again with Efrain. My shoulders were wadded up with tension and I was nervous. “Just don’t trip,” I muttered to myself as I drove. “And, for God’s sake, speak slowly when delivering the epistle. Do Not Rush!”
Once at church, I discovered Efrain was not yet there so I went into the parish hall where the 8 o’clockers (the low mass folks) were gathered for coffee and treats. Ray and I often attend the 8 o’clock mass because Ray likes the brevity and, more importantly, loves the smaller coffee hour gathering, which provides more opportunity for chatting with a few beloved fellow parishioners. When I arrived at the coffee hour, several people smiled and called out, “Congratulations on your first day as sub-deacon!” When I expressed my worry over not memorizing everything I was supposed to know, several just shook their heads, “You’re going to be great.”
After a quick cup of coffee, I headed back over to the sacristy to find Efrain. Sure enough, he was there and ready to patiently go back over the whole mass with me. Thank you, Efrain. I also had my fellow acolytes who were all excited for me and reassuring me that they would help if they found me wandering off in the wrong direction. By that time, Father Davies and Deacon Johnson had arrived and I said to Father Davies, “Now, you might have to point out a thing or two for me. His reply: “The only person who is truly exposed in the mass is the Deacon and he knows exactly what he’s doing. The rest of us have people nearby who can help. Don’t worry.” Deacon added, “You just watch me and you’ll be fine.” Needless to say, I felt reassured to the nth degree. After that, Efrain helped me into my robes, which actually fit since I had chosen to wear boots with three-inch heels just so the robes wouldn’t drag. We were all pleased to see that I was not going to look like a little kid wearing her mother (or father’s) dressing gown. Once I was finally dressed in four layers – too complicated to explain right now – and had donned my biretta, an odd little black hat – off we went to the back of the church for the procession.
I will not detail all the events over the hour and twenty minutes of mass, but just know this: the minute the service began, Father Davies, Deacon, and Efrain managed to prod, pull or poke me at just the right times so I didn’t forget a thing. I even managed to get through that three-page Bible reading without stumbling, stuttering or mispronouncing anything too glaringly. In other words, my friends helped me to blend in and do what I was supposed to do so that I didn’t call unnecessary attention to myself, which is one of the goals of those serving at the altar during mass. For their love and support, I am deeply grateful.
That is the main point of this post: to thank all of my dear friends at St. Thomas the Apostle who encouraged and helped me yesterday, and who will be there to do the same for any number of unknown challenges in the future. That is what a church family does – it loves and supports its fellow members and gives them thumbs-up when needed. The people of St. Thomas the Apostle once again proved themselves to be right there with smiles and hugs just when I needed them.
Thank you, church family. I am blessed to have you all in my life.