On Sunday mornings, in preparation for the arrival of small band of 1st and 2nd graders, I make sure a great green felt arrow points to the right small rectangular piece of felt. There are 52 pieces of felt to represent every Sunday of the year in four colors: green, purple, white, and red. They form a circle on the wall like a two-dimensional stonehenge. The most numerous of those felt squares are great green growing Sundays. Next come purple preparation Sundays that come before the great white felt mysteries of Christmas and Easter. Easter has seven white Sundays. The mystery of Easter is such that we have to ponder it for a long time. Almost hidden, where 5:26 would be on a clock, is red hot Pentecost. Red hot Pentecost Sunday is a favorite with the 1st and 2nd graders. They all know that tongues of fire came on red hot Pentecost. We all say, “SSSS” like we’re frying bacon, when we talk about red hot Pentecost.
Even without a great circle calendar, as a preliterate kid I could recite these seasons of liturgical church life. It wasn’t too hard, usually the different colored stoles the priest wore gave it away. Pentecost happened towards the end of spring but before school got out for summer. After Pentecost, came VBS, summer camp, the choir summer musical in between swim team practices, meets, and waiting for the ice cream truck.
Soon after school started and the leaves changed to yellow, orange and red, we celebrated All Saint’s Eve. The entire church was transformed into a playhouse for kids, with crafts, cakewalks, mazes, duck ponds, and face painting. After All Saint’s Eve and its hayrides, two-pound bags of candy and glow-sticks, church entered the purple season of Advent. During Sunday school, all the kids would go to the undercroft (a large fellowship hall complete with stage) and make crafts for an “Advent Make and Take.” Leftover evergreens from trees and trimmings turned into advent wreaths. Plain candles became works of sequin, glitter, and wax stickers. Clothespins became angels with curly hair and perfectly sharpied o-shaped mouths.
The altar guild meanwhile would transform the church with festive evergreen wreaths the size of cars, neatly tied with red ribbons. The live nativity would be set up outside for the Christmas Eve service. With the brick walkways covered in hay or snow, the holy family (actors from the congregation) processed in under a tapestry canopy held by fellow acolytes in long white robes.
The green and red of Christmas decorations would disappear as magically as they arrived, right before Epiphany. The following dreary days of winter lead into another season of purple, my favorite season: Lent. Ash Wednesday is to this day, as it was when I was a morbid nine year old, my favorite service. So solemn, so somber, so deep and beautiful. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” The bigger youth groups kids spread rumors that the ash placed on our foreheads was last year’s Palm Sunday branches—a rumor I never confirmed, though there was a catalogue, kept in a cupboard in the sacristy, where they could order ashes, along with acolyte robes and communion wafers.
After Lent, as daylight increased and so did the temperatures, Easter arrived. My brother and sister and I would decide whether we would serve as torch bearers on Palm Sunday, or chalice-bearers at Maudy Thursday’s foot washing service. Some years we would acolyte on Easter Sunday and wear new crosses over our white robes. And every year they would nag us about wearing the proper footwear: NO FLIPFLOPS or TENNIS SHOES.
And after the white of Easter and the red of Pentecost, the church year reset. I would acolyte at weddings and at funerals. I learned by heart the prayers, scriptures, and rhythms of each rite of worship. I knew where the extra robes were for when I spilled wine down my robe in the middle of communion (or the robes of the adult lay ministers; pouring is a tricky business). I read Prayers of the People at the lectern. I taught Sunday school. I lit candles before the service and extinguished them at the end.
My family left this church when I left for college. I’ve never gone back. I’m not sure why and I’m not sure I need to. Because in a way, I don’t think I ever left. How can I leave time itself? The seasons of the church are always there, no matter where I find myself worshiping. I am always home on Sunday, in great green growing Sundays, purple preparation Sundays or the holy, mystical mysterious Sundays of Christmas and Easter. They are the only home I’ll ever need. For they are to me the liturgy of Faith, the hope and the promise of the world to come.
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I am in tears towards the middle of reading this. I can see you and your siblings along with my son. It truly was just as you say it was….and is.
Thanks for comment, Raisa! It was such a gift to grow up at Truro!