Have you ever had that feeling that you just have to “get out”, or you’ll explode? That feeling hit me this afternoon with a vengeance! I spend most work days sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen reading will and trust documents, business agreements and tax returns. While to a tax lawyer this is really exciting stuff, most of the time – today, as the temperature rose into the eighties,and on a beautiful sun filled day, it was not enough to hold me in my place.
So what to do at four in the afternoon on a hot muggy early summer day in Columbia, South Carolina? My solution will as they say in those Facebook teasers: Shock You! But not really, it’s to be expected of an Anglo-Catholic religious liturgical fanatic such as myself: it is Evening Prayer! But how to get there? This is a week my wife and I are sharing a car and I don’t have it today. My office is at one end of Assembly Street and the Cathedral is at the other and that’s a long way. I have walked it, but not at the end of a day in eighty degree heat. And, I have an injured toe which despite days of healing still smarts rather badly.
So I begin to explore alternative transport. I go to Google and look up Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority aka the bus company. Now most upper middle class folk, regardless of color or creed, in Columbia, South Carolina do not, and would not ride the bus for love or money. But, for a few blocks it would be tolerable and besides they now have free Wi-Fi.
So after searching the website and becoming totally confused I call ‘em up. The lady who answers the phone is obviously sitting in a public area as I could hear voices and yelling in the background. The tone of her greeting clearly indicates she is in no mood for foolishness. I explain I would like to know which bus route would take me from the Federal Building on Assembly Street to Trinity Cathedral on Sumter Street? What? She yells into the phone, you want to go where? Where are you starting from, sir? “The Federal Building on Assembly Street”, I respond. “Well you can just get off and walk then, she yells” slamming the phone down as soon as she finishes. For a moment I am stunned! This is the bus system that has been begging for more riders for years and experiencing perennial financial difficulties. You would think they would want to help me use their service?
So, I see on the website an email address with the words “contact us”. Next thing is an email relaying my concern about the rudeness of the staff and asking once again for information on the best route to take. So, within thirty minutes or so a very nice man calls me up and gives me the route information, and near the end, issues an apology. He was so polite I felt bad having complained and thanked him both for the information and the apology.
So, I can take route 201, 401, or 601 and I quickly look up their respective schedules. It’s 4:15 p.m.and EP starts at 5:30 and it looks like, oh no, the next bus leaves at 4:30 p.m. from the transit station about two blocks away. If you can imagine the scene in the motion picture “Home Alone” when the family, having overslept, are trying to make up lost time and get to the airport in time to catch a plane, then you have an accurate picture of what ensued next. I hope I got everything put away and locked up. You know the Government takes a very dim view of leaving things out which contain “taxpayer information”. It is all hush, hush and must be locked up securely each evening. Failure in this regard can lead to immediate extinction. Well, not really, but something like extreme embarrassment. So, off I go with leaps and bounds attempting to catch the “last train for the coast” as the Don McLean song (Bye, Bye Miss American Pie) would say. I think the words were “And, the three men I admired the most: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost took the last train for the cost the day the music died.”
So, I arrive at the station and I stand there looking for number 201, 401 or 601. None are anywhere to be found. I stand there, and I stand there staring out across Laurel Street when it hits me. These buses leave from the corner of Laurel and Sumter Street. Perhaps they come to the Sumter Street side of the station? So just as I round the corner onto Sumter Street I spy number 201 just as pretty as you please and I start making my way toward it. But, too late, the big bus shoots out a big black puff of stinky smoke and off it goes leaving me gasping through the fumes. OK. I’ll just wait, perhaps 402 or 601 will show up soon. It is 4:36 p.m. By 4:45 p.m. it is abundantly clear that “they ain’t comin.”
So, it’s off to see the wizard as I decide to hoof it all the way to grandma’s house. The trek was slow at first. The first block seemed like it was a mile long. And, then it hit me. Make a photo record of this trek and write something to go with it. And so I did. For some reason having ascribed a “purpose” to the trip transformed it from a drudgery into a project and it became palatable. After four more blocks, give or take a block, I arrived at my destination. I found myself before the great West Door of Trinity Cathedral. My heart leaped with joy and my feet were so thankful. I climbed the few steps before the door, turned the knob, and found it was “locked up tight as a drum”. So, I rounded the corner climbed more and steeper steps onto the porch near the South Door and tried the door leading into the Parish House. Locked! So, I descended the stairs from the porch and hiked around the entire Cathedral until I reached the back door near the cloister and parking lot. Eureka, open. Up the interior stairs with pulsating feet and into the hall affectionately known as the “Chisholm Trail” for reasons I know not and which form a part of Trinity history which occurred before I became one of its communicants.
So, down the Trail I went, making a right turn then through the door, and descending the stairs into the sacristy. There I paused for a moment before the table containing the register book. I place my briefcase on a small side table, open it and remove my Daily Office Book which I keep with me at all times. It is my “concealed weapon” for use in times of emergency against the forces of evil which prowl around seeking to “devour spirit and soul” and which must be held at bay, no matter what. And then it comes: a sound equivalent in volume to a peal of thunder which made me shriek. It was a blast of the lower register pipes of the magnificent cathedral organ and after recovering my composure I realized – we have an organ master hard at work perfecting his or her craft.
So, I peek around the wall dividing the Chancel from the Choir and yes there are two of them. They are going about their work with gusto giving the organ a real workout. I didn’t recognize the piece they were practicing. It was something modern. Nor did I recognize those practicing it. But, they were very methodical and serious at their work.
It was now 5:10 p.m. and there was no sign of the assigned Officiant who was to lead the Office. The Office is to start at 5:30 p.m. I know that because I am the one who schedules the Officiants and John was definitely not there. So as they used to say in the Navy “form battle line”. I take my “concealed weapon” and head for the small chapel adjoining the Chancel. As I go, I take a brass lighter and after reverencing the cross over the high altar I descend the steps.
Seibels Chapel is my refuge and my temple. It is a place set aside by God for special purposes and opens a window to a world unseen but definitely felt in the midst of this sacred space. It was here that some of the most profound revelations of my life have occurred and where I have met some of the most influential people in my life. I will always be grateful to those who shared this sacred space with me and taught me so much.
I decide to wait to light the candles as I remembered that the West Door needs to be unlocked and the sign announcing the Offices be placed on the sidewalk before the outer wall which borders it. Now, the West Door is problematic and poses and real task for those of us of slight to small stature. The bolt securing it at the bottom has over time become bent so that it does not fit the opposing shaft. It is difficult to unbolt the door and very difficult to bolt it back. But, by employing some strategically placed kicks the bolt will grudgingly move into the proper position.
Having unlocked the door I picked up the large plastic sign from under the spiral stair leading to the balcony in the front of the church and place it just beyond the stone wall on the sidewalk. That way passersby would see it and not occasionally some have come in seeking shelter in prayer from a world that is sometimes rather cruel.
Back to the Chapel to light the candles and then it hits me. Nothing makes Evening Prayer special like a bit of the “holy smoke” aka incense. So I traverse the high altar again (reverencing as I go) and enter the small hall just off the ante-sacristy. In that hall live two thuribles (censors) and these thuribles each have their own particular personalities and while no one has seen fit to name them I like to think of them as Twist and Loose. They are sort of like a married couple with complimentary faults. Twist is the older of the two and is bad to tangle up on you at the least provocation. He has three chains and if you’re not vigilant they will become irreparably tangled and Twist will then control you rather than you controlling him. Loose, on the other hand, does not employ the tangle strategy, it being beneath her dignity to do so, but rather she employs a different strategy of disruption, that being, one or more or her chains just come loose from the base of the thurible leaving it hanging lop sided with the attendant danger of hot burning coals escaping. This is a rather powerful and elegant strategy and one fraught with danger for a thurifer caught unawares. Burning down a church is most likely a mortal sin for which forgiveness may never come.
So today it’s Twist. Despite his squirming and turning I have come to understand him in a special way so as to manage things without incident. So I load him up with charcoal and set the torch, this being kitchen matches today. Since I am using self lighting charcoal disks coated with gunpowder they light quickly with a little spurt like a sparkler.
It is 5:20 p.m. and in comes John. We talk and we visit and then John leaves to ring the bell calling the faithful to prayer. And, given the length of this tome I will save the details of the Office for another installment.
Your patience here is much appreciated gentle reader. Stay tuned.