For some reason I went to church yesterday, at the Episcopal church outside my window. Well, there was actually a very specific reason, which was to suss out the possibility of finding a rehearsal space for my singing group. I thought I should darken their door at least once before asking a favor. I had a houseguest who was willing to come with me. After all, we reasoned, when we travel in foreign countries we always check out churches, and sometimes even go to services, to see the stained-glass windows and hear the language; why not have an ecclesiastical adventure closer to home?
My guest had been raised Protestant, so she knew basically when to stand and when to sit. The seats were much plusher than those in any Catholic church I have known, and the kneelers were also more comfortable, and movable, like little hassocks. We were greeted by a kind older woman, who asked where we were from and offered us programs and cardboard fans. The minister was also a woman, as were the deacon, the subdeacon, the crucifer, and the thurifer. O.K., so there was no thurifer.
I am so used to zoning out when I go to church that I didn’t listen very carefully to the Epistle, but I did pay attention to the Gospel, which was about Jesus sending out the Apostles (it was the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost). It gave the names of all twelve of them. Trying to remember the names of all twelve Apostles is like reciting the names of the Seven Dwarfs or all of Santa’s reindeer. They were: Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee (the Great?), his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the taxi-driver, I mean tax collector, James son of Alphaeus (the Less?), Thaddeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot. I will have to get out my Last Supper pillows to see who’s who.
After the Gospel, the minister announced that at this point in the service they suffered the little children to depart for instruction appropriate to their age level and commenced her sermon. It was a long one, and I found myself wondering where they took the children. It was the second time in less than twenty-four hours that a woman had said something patronizing about children, the first being the day before at a garden, a fabulous garden in an unlikely place, wedged between a hospital, a highway, a college, and a parking lot, which I discovered when I took a walk after parking my car the week after I got back from the Azores. The woman who ran the garden had a black tusk in her left ear, in a piercing that had been gradually enlarged until it had the circumference of a nickel. Her garden is magical, full of hollyhocks and fig trees, irises, leeks going gracefully to seed, architectural elements, whimsical animal statues, a little house studded with brass fittings, ornamental mosaic paths and borders. Some of the low walls and supports have teapots and porcelain figurines set into the concrete; I assumed it was these toys that the woman was referring to when she said that the garden had been designed to appeal at the level of children.
Well, it appealed to us, and we didn’t know whether to be flattered for our own sake or dismayed for the children’s. We sat down in the shade for a few minutes, taking it all in: the pansies and nasturtiums, the concrete pig, the sprinklers twitiching in circles, the high-rise parking lot. A woman with a bunch of bananas offered us each an oatmeal cookie, and I felt a little like Hansel and Gretel, except that the woman with the tusk in her ear had no evil designs on us, and we knew the way home.
The Episcopal minister did not have a tusk in her ear. I was afraid she had noticed us, and worried during the sermon that she wasn’t going to stop until she saw that I was paying attention. She greeted everyone in the congregation during the Kiss of Peace (my friend said that’s new—Protestants never used to do the Kiss of Peace). We were the first ones out after the recessional, and the minister was waiting. With genuine curiosity, she asked who we were. I like to be anonymous in church, but I told her my name and said I was a neighbor who lived around the corner and had a view of the church. She said she lived on the seventh floor of the building behind the church, and at first I thought that she was much higher up than I am but then I remembered that I am on the sixth floor, and later realized that her windows look directly onto my living room.