Vicki Wentz: This is me being holier than thou

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 04:08 PM

Although I don’t like to flaunt it, I am an incredibly holy person who attends church ... uh ... semi-regularly. As I may have mentioned in a couple of columns, I attended Catholic schools filled with nuns – the real kind, where you can’t see anything but their faces and hands, and maybe an occasional peek at a little black slipper – and if those sisters taught me anything, they taught me to go to church (and, of course, no talking. I generally got good grades, but the comment section on my report card invariably found eight to 10 ways to say, “This child talks more than is scientifically or humanly possible!”)
Last Sunday, however, instead of going to Mass as I always ... uh ... semi-regularly do, I went to church with a friend who is Presbyterian. This was my first time at a Presbyterian service, but I figured, how different could it be, except they probably don’t have nuns hanging around ready to pounce on anyone who whispers one single, teensy word!
First, everyone was supposed to say hi to everyone around them, and I thought that was really nice. Folks in the rows in front of me turned around, folks behind me reached forward, and folks beside me slid closer. For a few minutes, I felt like Salma Hayek ... you know, because we look so much alike ... or maybe the queen in a reception line at Buckingham Palace.
The next thing they did was ask everyone to sign the book at the end of their row indicating whether we were members, visitors, occasional churchgoers, etc.. Still easy.
My first surprise was that the choir marched in and sat up behind the altar (it’s still an “altar” in Presbyterianism, isn’t it?) and faced us, which I found a tad disconcerting. In the Catholic churches where I grew up, the choir loft was above the front door, and in high school choir, it was very convenient to have the congregants’ backs to us, on the rare occasion that, say, you yawn so big the choir nun gives you a dirty look, or you pull your arms inside your choir robe to remove your uniform sweater because you’re so hot you could croak ... not that I ever did any of that.
My second surprise was the minister (or, what is it, preacher, minister, reverend, pastor, WHAT?!) who had a very nice smile, was blond, blue-eyed, dressed in the same sort of long black robe I expected, but was, um, well, a woman! This is something I’ve never seen on the altar at Mass, my friend. As you probably know, we don’t do women priests. Not that I haven’t heard many a thunderous freakin’ sermon from those nuns, who are, presumably, women, but still, it was somewhat jarring.
Then, we stood for the first hymn, which I didn’t know, but I faked my way through it pretty well and sat down complacently to listen to the first reading, and whaddaya know: They use the same Bible! I mean, not that I didn’t know that there’s pretty much only one Bible, but still, it was reassuring, you know?
The sermon – even with that whole delivered-by-a-woman thing – was great and actually moving. It was all about Jiminy Cricket, and wishing on a star, and how God wants everyone to dream their biggest dreams and make them happen, which is when I decided to put some of my columns into a book just like good old Erma Bombeck did, and then maybe I could make people laugh their hineys off all over the country! It was quite exhilarating, really.
And, suddenly, I remembered my daughter’s call to me the previous week, when she’d gone to church and forgotten to put a diaper on 2-year-old Gracie, who is brilliant and beautiful, but not yet reliably potty-trained. When she discovered this state of affairs, everyone was sitting down, so she sat Gracie on her lap on top of her winter coat, which would serve in the event of a mid-sermon emergency.
The moment everyone stood up, she scooped up Gracie and the coat, scurried down the side aisle unnoticed and proceeded to their car which is like one giant diaper bag on wheels. Louise and Gracie made the necessary changes and hurried back to church, where Louise thought it would be all right to go up the center aisle since everyone was still standing. Father Louis was speaking, and Louise’s family knows him very well, have had him to dinner, etc.
As they were approaching their pew, Gracie looked up and called, “Hey, Louie! Hey, Louie!” He had the presence and grace to smile and give a small wave as Louise, mortified, picked up Gracie and started scooting into their pew.
At that point, Father Louis said “You may be seated.”
And Gracie yelled, “Amen!”
Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker. Readers may contact her at chh@heraldsun.com, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com.