A Day in the Life of the Church
A Thursday in December
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
7:45am – quiet, no one here yet. Grey outside. Typical early December morning. It’s a Thursday so it will be a busy day. Luckily it didn’t snow last night. If it had, and if it was less than two inches, the volunteers would have had to be here to shovel and salt the walkways. If it’s more than two inches, the snow service that looks after the parking lot shovels the walks as well. Funny, when you’re on the volunteer snow service list, you pray for lots of snow.
First arrival. A Montessori School rents out the basement, so the first of the teachers has arrived. Soon the parking lot will be filled with parents dropping off their precious heirs. Lucky we were able to get that parking lot repaired last year. It’s original, almost 30 years old. The cost of total replacement is beyond the means of our small church. The trustees found a local contractor who could do an affordable repair job. Put off the inevitable for a few more years.
Another teacher has arrived.
Here comes our Church Administrator Wilma. Always parking in “her” spot. No question she has been a blessing to the goings on at the church since she joined our small team a number of years ago. So many people in the community and the congregation enjoy her help.
The children for Montessori are starting to arrive. Bundled up for the weather, lugging their backpacks. Some parents are calm and supportive, others a bit rushed and impatient – likely late for a meeting or conference call.
By now the parking lot could use a traffic cop.
Fred just came in. Fred doesn’t like the cold, but comments that he’s glad it didn’t snow last night. Fred must be on volunteer snow duty this week. The light bulbs in the high ceiling lights have decided that now is the season for giving up their light. He’s just gotten some replacements, but will need the help of three other guys to maneuver the oversized ladder to reach the lights. As the guys get older, the ladder seems to get higher. They’re coming tomorrow, so he’ll be back. These lights are on the top of Fred’s never ending “To Do” list right now. Christmas is coming and he wants all the lights working for the special services.
Sally just came in. She’s one of the members of the Prayer Shawl network, a group who knits prayer shawls. The prayer shawls are provided to anyone – congregants, friends, loved ones who may be experiencing personal tragedy, whatever it may be. Sally has run out of yarn again, so she is raiding the supply of yarn in the outer office closet. Amazing how the yarn in that closet seems to keep replenishing itself thanks to donations by both the group members and the congregation. The Prayer Shawl network has donated countless Prayer Shawls over the years.
The Sanctuary looks festive, with silver stars hanging invisibly from fishing line strung across from opposite walls, the tree in the front corner adorned with the blue lights and silver bows, and the life-sized wooden cut outs of the characters from the nativity scene stationed around the perimeter, each week getting closer to the front of the sanctuary. They move as if by magic, or Elves.
Speaking of Elves, there is a second Christmas tree at the back of the Sanctuary sponsored by the Tansley Elf network. It’s a mitten, scarf, and hat tree for collecting those items for families that Tansley supports at this time of year. It’s already starting to fill up.
No question, churches run on volunteers, and once again they have done a miraculous job decorating for the season and preparing to help folks in the community.
The Minister has arrived. Like so many ministers these days in the GTA, she commutes from outside of Burlington. She too comments on how she’s thankful it didn’t snow last night. Her commute was much easier than some winter mornings. She has a full day ahead, finalizing this Sunday’s music with the Music Director, meeting with a congregant, planning the upcoming multiple Christmas eve services, and of course putting the finishing touches on this week’s sermon. Her phone is already ringing and vibrating with calls and emails.
Wilma’s office is especially busy today. Thursday is the day when the Sunday Bulletin is finished, and she’s held up because the hymns haven’t been finalized yet. The communications group who puts together the slides for the Sanctuary projector are waiting as well. They are currently being updated remotely from Florida. Magic.
Wilma’s phone seems to be constantly ringing as well. People phoning to check on upcoming services, or details of the next fundraiser like the annual electronics recycling or shredding events – “remember to check the website” she always reminds them. Others phone looking for assistance, covering the spectrum of where to drop off gently used clothing, to “how can I get some food for my family”? or even more concerning, “I’ve recently emigrated to Canada, I am a single mother with three small children, and we are in need of assistance.” Many of the calls Wilma can handle herself for she has fielded these types of distress calls far too often over the years. Some of the calls, those of a more faith or counseling related nature, she refers to the Minister. In this secular age we live in, how comforting that many still feel they can safely turn to the church in times of need.
It’s already noon, and some of the morning Montessori kids are being picked up so the parking lot is a traffic jam again. Some of the parents seem a bit more stressed than they were this morning. Must be the season.
It’s starting to snow. Hopefully not too much. Tough to get the sidewalks shovelled and salted middle of the day. The snow is collecting around the base of the barbeque on the patio at the back of the Sanctuary. We’ve lost count of the number of Burgers and Hot Dogs that have been cooked on that BBQ for various congregational and Out Reach functions since it was donated by a member of the congregation a number of years ago.
Brian has arrived and is fussing in the Sound Booth. There have been some hiccups the last couple of weeks with the sound when video is being shown during service, so he wants to get to the bottom of the problem before this Sunday’s volunteers are supporting the service. The audio from the video and from the microphones feed into a special audio loop located at the back of the sanctuary on some traditional pews. The hearing impaired can sit there with their hearing aids or ocular implants and hear everything as clear as day. Magic. That along with the upgraded sound system, courtesy of a grant, has made the overall acoustics in the church much more pleasurable for everyone.
Fred has returned, this time to add additional chairs to the sanctuary. This past weekend was our inaugural Nativity Scene Expo, which followed the annual Candy Cane Traditions Christmas craft bazaar the week before. The sanctuary was put back together but now additional chairs are needed to prepare for the growing attendance that always seems to happen during Advent. How fortunate that we have moveable chairs rather than traditional pews. A necessary evil given we always seems to be short on space, but a blessing at the same time as everyone gets to enjoy the Sanctuary in its various incarnations.
Keith and Mildred have stopped by. Tomorrow is the weekly Food For Life program. Sometimes as many as 50 families stop by the church for food support. The number of families has increased steadily over the years. The food is provided mostly by Food For Life of Burlington, and supplemented by our emergency food cupboard. Mildred wants to double-check some of the supplies ahead of time. A former cloakroom was converted into a pantry to hold all of the supplies for the food programs. We have some handy carpenters in the congregation and they did a great job.
While Mildred is checking the pantry, Keith is talking to Wilma about some renters who will be using space in the New Year. Without the sizable rental income that the church receives from ongoing and casual rentals, there is no way the budget would balance. Such is the fate of far too many churches large and small.
One person has left the Ministers office, and almost immediately her phone rings, followed by another person waking in, this time from another church in town whom we will be doing a joint service with.
Sam has arrived. While Sam attends a different church, his volunteer efforts have found some ongoing sources of food for our outreach programs. He makes a quick delivery of bags picked up at the local Freshco to the food pantry, waves at Wilma through the window, and rushes out the door.
Its midafternoon now, and Ruby has arrived. Every Thursday evening during the winter there is a seniors cooking program in the basement kitchen. A couple of local chefs have been hired and rotate the Thursdays, preparing meals that the seniors help in preparing, followed by everyone sharing the meal together, and then taking home the left overs. Ruby is expecting 16 people tonight, about average for the group. There are always last minute cancellations and additions, so Ruby is never sure exactly how many people will attend. Some are church members, they sort of act as ambassadors. Others are members of the community who have learned of the program from our growing social media presence, and attend for the social aspect. Dave always sets up the tables and chairs, and Stella often decorates for the theme of the meal. Tonight, it’s Italian so red and white-checkered napkins and candles in old wine bottles are in place. The program grew out of a desire by the congregation to do something to support seniors in the community, and funding came from a grant that Ruby was able to obtain. The grant not only kick started the program, but also paid for a much needed upgrade to the church kitchen. The actual renovation work was done by all those handy guys again in the congregation. Soon the church will be filled with the smell of tonight’s menu.
The winter birds have discovered the berries on the trees outside the sanctuary. This year has yielded an especially abundant crop, and the branches are hanging down with the weight of the berries, so low in fact that one of our volunteers cut his forehead while trying to duck under them as he cut the grass with the riding lawn mower this summer. Rather than traditional stained-glass windows, the church has tall clear windows, so people can both look in and out to see God’s wonder. The birds feeding on the trees will provide a winter of entertainment for those of us who gaze out the windows during Sunday morning worship.
Outside the main door sits a small book exchange library. It was built by one of the handy guys at the church, and is filled with books for members of the congregation and surrounding community to enjoy. Not all of the books make it back into the little library, but it always seems to fill up again. A couple who live in the neighbourhood is returning a couple of books, and are pleased to see that the selection has recently been increased again.
Meanwhile, the Montessori school has ended for the day, and for the third time the parking lot is grid locked. Some of the parents still seem to be in a rush.
Upstairs in the 2nd floor loft, a local group Chill Zone has taken over the space for its twice weekly after school support program for local kids. The floor is vibrating with all their blowing off of steam after being cooped up in school all day. The Minister’s office directly below on the main floor sounds like the inside of a drum. She’s finding it difficult to carry on a counseling session right now.
Even though it’s cold outside, some of the Chill Zone kids are out in the back parking lot shooting hoops in the donated basketball net. There’s even a shed back there, paid for by another grant, filled with basketballs, and hockey sticks. Sometimes there are some good parking lot hockey games.
Mabel has arrived for her weekly updating of the outdoor back lit sign that advertises upcoming events, worship services and uplifting messages for the busy passers by. It’s a struggle to keep the large Plexiglas cover open while changing the letters on the sign at the same time; so luckily, it’s not too windy today. We are waiting to hear whether a grant for a new outdoor sign that can be changed via remote control has been approved. Mabel would much prefer to change the sign from the comfort of inside the warm church.
Wilma has just put the finishing touches on the weekly bulletin now that the Sunday Hymns have been finalized, and is hurrying out the door. She’ll be back in the morning helping out with the Food For Life program.
The Minister has finished her meetings for the day and will be leaving soon as well. It proved to be a busier day than expected, which seems to be the norm this time of year. The season seems to bring out people’s needs and concerns a bit more than other times of the year. Finishing the weekly sermon will have to wait until tomorrow when hopefully she can find some quiet time.
Joanne of Joanne’s Yoga has just arrived. Her weekly Thursday evening class is in the loft upstairs, just recently vacated by the Chill Zone kids.
Ruby’s Cooking at Tansley is in full swing downstairs.
The music director Andre has just arrived and members of the choir are beginning to filter in – Thursday night is Choir practice night, and they take up the whole sanctuary as well as need access to the Nelson Room.
It’s 7:30 pm now. The Cooking at Tansley program has finished up and the participants are all making their way up the stairs and out into the night, smiling and loaded up with takeout food containers. “Oh, I’m still not used to it being dark so soon” one remarks, as another stops to button up her coat before venturing out into the night. She pauses to see if anything new has been added to the community bulletin board.
The choir has all arrived and Andre is having difficulty getting them to focus on the music for the evening’s rehearsal. There is too much interesting news to share among the members. This time of year, with Christmas coming, all the members make a special effort to make it out to practice, so there are some faces we haven’t seen for a few weeks. And there is always someone who is just back from a vacation, or another who has been away due to illness or a family matter, but tonight mostly everyone is here and there are lots of good stories to share. Finally, Andre just starts playing the piano, and everyone settles down to the task at hand.
While the choir continues to practice, Joanne’s Yoga group wraps up and everyone begins leaving the church. “My, it got cold,” someone mentions as they head out the door. “I just love this time of year,” another says, pausing to listen to the choir practice a traditional Christmas hymn. The last of the class leaves.
Finally, the choir is alone in the Church. But wait, what’s that noise downstairs. George the custodian arrived sometime in the last hour and is making his rounds. It’s been a busy day at the church, so there is a lot to clean up.
It’s past 9:30. Choir practice has gone a bit over time this week, but that’s not unusual given all the extra hymns they have to practice for the upcoming seasonal services. Everyone is finally putting the chairs back, and Marion is carefully filing away the sheet music. What a blessing to have a librarian in the choir. Lots of hugs as the choir disbands – well wishes for upcoming doctors’ appointments. “See you Sunday” is on everyone’s lips as they leave the church.
It’s gotten a bit windy, and the tree branches in the parking lot are swaying. The streetlights make the branches glimmer a bit with the snow that froze on them earlier in the day. Mabel’s handiwork on the lit sign out by the road advertises the upcoming service as well as the Cantata next week. George is still cleaning up in the church, but everyone else has finally left. Tomorrow, the church will be filled with lots more people, some the same as today, others who show up regularly for programs on Friday, maybe someone who has never walked through the doors before. The Church never really sleeps. It’s always there, patiently waiting for people who are ready to discover the joys it has to offer inside, and with each other; growing people of faith who participate in God’s work in the world.