St. Paul’s United Church
Polished organ pipes soar to the ceiling in chorus. Adorned in white and blue, the choir is positioned in a semicircle surrounding the altar while each heavenly voice resonates in the air. Families congregate in wooden pews, heads bowed and hands clasped, every prayer longing to be fulfilled.
I sit in the usher’s seat at the back of the church, along with gold offering plates, wooden prayer boxes, and stacks of church bulletins. Dressed in a velvet blue blazer, embroidered silk blouse, and black formal pants, I wait for the congregation to enter through the side doors. The wood grains enrapture my body as the angelic voices singing “God Will Make a Way” echo through my mind. A large flowery green hat approaches me under which fair skin, green eyes, and long blonde hair reveals itself. I stand.
“Good morning, small or large?”
“Good morning, Natalia. A small one for me, please.”
Handing her a small bulletin equipped with the service’s proceedings and activities in the church this month, I return to sit in the pew. I see my family up in the balcony. Mother guards one door, father secures the opposite entrance, grandfather watches the third door, and grandmother views the last door. I was on my own in the lower level.
At 10:30, as per custom, we close the towering wooden double doors. The pastor, garbed in an elegant robe decorated with two gold crosses, approaches the altar. White wisps illuminate his scalp as multicoloured dots from the looming stained glass windows emerge on his fair wrinkled skin. His heavy hands place the Bible beside the golden baptismal font, and set his notes upon the podium. Pounding comes from the left door. Thump. Thump. My feet itch to wander over, yet my mind provokes any movement. Should I open the door? Will it disrupt everyone? Thump. Thump.
I tread to the door. Turning the doorknob, I peer through the opening. Nothing is in sight. The wind’s bitter touch tenses my face. I open the door further. Squeaks echo over the pastor’s sermon.
“The choice we are all faced with is the opposition between the spiritual and the alleged supernatural. With God’s unearthly mediation, what is your reaction?”
Peering beyond the warmth of the wooden door, I see a man. Greying tendrils of hair top the edges of his hairline. Dark wrinkles corner his sunken brown eyes.
“May I come in?” he asks.
I hand him a large bulletin and escort him to a vacant seat in the back so as not to disrupt everyone. His ragged jeans drag along the green carpet while his tattered brown jacket smells of moisture.
“It’s striking that God used the symbol of a unfruitful womb to beckon his dearest servants. His specialty is in the impossible…”
I hear the pew creak, and I see heads turn backwards questioning the source of the noise.
The man stood up, holding a Bible.
“My utmost respects, Father, but a specific line touched me and I wonder if I may share it with the congregation. I know you are preaching at the moment, but it would be of my utmost graciousness if I could share this line,” he pleads.
Eyes of the congregation drift towards the pastor, returning quickly to the man. Whispers echo the hall, but the pastor returns to his sermon.
“That is where God excels the most, appearing in times of weariness, and in times of strife…”
I sink into the pew, not knowing what I should do. The man’s deep stare meets my flustered eyes. He sits down. I look up to the stained glass windows as the sun peaks and colour lusters upon his head.
It’s time to collect the offering. I stand up and distribute the offering plate to everyone row by row. I turn to look at the back pew, but the man has disappeared. I walk towards his seat, and see a small tattered yellow envelope. I pick it up. Written under the amount is $100, and inscribed on the front of the envelope in black it reads, “May peace be with you.”
Natalia is 18 years of age, and her passion for writing has taught her that a story is created over a lifetime, a collection of moments, each deserving to be told. Natalia is a second-year art and art history student.
It’s hard to write a church story and avoid didacticism, but Natalia fascinates with a tension between duties that feels real. The implicit criticism of the pastor—whose dialogue is delightfully mystical—is also interesting.
This was an entry in the 2013/14 Writing Contest.