(I first shared the report below in 2015. It was a collation of accounts from a variety of firsthand witnesses. The names and some details are changed in order to protect…well, you know. I’m not really sure if it happened this way. But if it didn’t, it should have. LRH)
It was the Sunday after Easter at old Christ Lutheran Church. Three Lutheran churches in town went by the name of “Christ.” The congregations owed allegiance to separate and mutually suspicious theological tribes. So none of the insiders saw a problem with the duplicate names. After all, why would any decent person pay attention to those other undesirable and disreputable places?
Normal people, however, needed some way to keep all the Christ Lutherans straight. Old Christ Lutheran stood at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. So for years it had been known as “Christ on the Corner.”
Christ on the Corner was the only one of the three that would consider having a woman pastor. The Reverend Joy McDougal was the latest such candidate to fill that venerable pulpit. She was a freshly-minted seminary graduate. That first year in parish ministry had been a challenging blur for her.
In particular it had been a long and trying Lent and Easter marathon. Multiple services, three funerals, two synod meetings, numerous hospital calls and some broken water pipes in the parsonage had made the season even longer. So Pastor Joy decided to take a post-Easter vacation.
The idea didn’t occur to Pastor Joy until about midway through Holy Week. As a cost-saving measure, pastoral vacations were covered by having a Laity Sunday. So the congregation didn’t usually need all that much warning about impending pastoral absences.
Typically the pastor wrote a message and planned the liturgy in advance. This meant that these Laity Sundays weren’t exactly compelling worship experiences. But not this time. As the pastor drug herself out of church after the final Easter service, the worship committee chair grabbed her. “Pastor, what are we doing next week?” Pastor Joy turned and said, “I have every confidence that you folks will figure something out.” An hour later she was headed for parts unknown.
The worship chair had two ideas at once. After all, desperation is the grandmother of invention. “We’re great at potlucks and parties,” he thought. “How about if we just invite people to bring their worship ideas and see what happens?”
He had also heard about some congregations that had a “joke Sunday” the week after Easter. That sounded like a good focus for the “potluck worship.” He composed the theme on the spot—“A Pot Full of Fun!”
The first problem arose when the local newspaper publicized the worship service. The editor left out the initial word of the theme. The headline read, “Christ Lutheran Declares Pot Full of Fun Sunday.” The church office received several calls from local law enforcement agencies and several groups in favor of the legalization of marijuana use. But, as it turned out, that was the least of their worries.
The potluck worship idea spread like a juicy rumor. Emails, phone calls, coffee talk—people were enthusiastic in their approval. “No one is going to fall asleep this Sunday!” the worship chair told his wife. His faithful and longsuffering spouse was one of the few pessimists — realists — in the crowd. She was also the accompanist for Sunday worship. She looked like she had an upset stomach.
The day came, and several people arrived early — a notable occurrence in itself. The chair of the youth committee put a big tub on the baptismal font and filled it with water. A relatively new member of the altar guild brought chips, salsa and sodas in hopes of a “culturally diverse” communion. Two high schoolers laid down a temporary hardwood floor in the chancel area and laced up their tap shoes.
The worship chair was an enthusiastic master of ceremonies. He had rented tails, a top hat, and a cane for the occasion. His spouse was exceedingly grateful that the organ was located in the balcony. The tap dancers led things off with an athletic routine to the melody of “You Ain’t Got a Thing If You Ain’t Got No Swing.” The swing was unfolding nicely until the climactic cartwheels at the end.
One of the dancers hooked a heel on the parament hanging from the lectern. Fabric, Bible, brass rods and cough drops were launched into the congregation. Worshipers dove for cover. No one, however, was injured. Most people assumed it was just part of the act. A few of the front-row folks thought that perhaps cough drops should be distributed gratis at every service.
An older member who didn’t attend much offered up a joke. “A minister, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar,” he began. No one heard the rest of the joke due to the heated and whispered conversation that ensued between the man and his horrified spouse. All anyone heard was when she said, “Leon, shut up! I have to kiss that filthy mouth of yours!”
The chair of the youth committee glimpsed an opening and sprang into action. She grabbed an industrial-grade squirt gun and filled it from the tub on the font. “Now it’s time for us to remember our baptisms!” she shouted. She pumped out a couple of gallons before the crowd shouted back, “We remember! We remember!” The next year she was promoted to the Property and Grounds committee and put in charge of the lawn sprinklers.
As people dried themselves off, the worship chair said, “Who has a favorite hymn?” Multiple suggestions came from both sides of the sanctuary. Suddenly the strains of “Amazing Grace” collided with a heartfelt rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” In a panic, the organist began to play “Jesus Loves Me.” And a few of the less-regular attenders were humming “In Heaven There is No Beer.” Eventually they carried the day. Two couples launched into enthusiastic polkas in the aisle.
When the chaos subsided, the finance chair suggested that it was time for the offering. Several ambitious teens tried to toss quarters in the plates from thirty feet away. It was the only time the ushers had ever considered wearing crash helmets and Kevlar vests. On the other hand, it was the highest cash offering ever received in that congregation on the Sunday after Easter.
In spite of previous concerns, communion was the calmest part of the morning. The chips were shaped like scoops, so the spillage was minimal. The soda portions were, to say the least, generous. The rest of the service was punctuated by burps and “excuse me’s” from several locations.
A member of the evangelism committee had been a college baton twirler. She saved her routine as the climax of the service. She performed beautifully—complete with flips and full turns. Then she tossed one of the batons toward the ceiling. The next several seconds seemed to unfold in slow motion.
The baton clipped a fire-sprinkler head on the ceiling. The head snapped off. Water began to fly in every direction. Parishioners fled the sanctuary with hair dripping and shoes squishing. The property and grounds chair sprinted to the emergency shut-off to minimize the damage. Coffee and treats waited in the fellowship hall. So the service was officially ended. The local volunteer fire department was grateful for the break in their Sunday routine and a chance at free snacks.
Pastor Joy suffered an appropriate attack of pastoral guilt that afternoon. She called the worship chair from an undisclosed location. “So,” she stammered, “did things go all right?”
“Couldn’t have been better, Pastor!” the worship chair exulted. “I think you should take a post-Easter vacation every year!”
But alas, she did not.