Columns, Featured Stories, Life with Hope

On the first day …

Michael Mann

There are a lot of stories within the walls of Hope Lutheran Church. Even the building itself tells a story, from the Sunday school drawings in the foyer to the deep, timeworn patina on pews that have witnessed a century of Sunday services. When Hope was built, the surrounding community was heavily Scandinavian and German Lutheran; Hope essentially functioned as a community center as well as a house of worship. Hope’s congregation used to be much bigger; these days, although it’s dwindled in size, people still fill the space with laughter, tears, and most importantly, stories. This is one of them. This is life with Hope.

Grace nearly jumped out of her shoes when she noticed a little girl sitting under her desk.

Footsteps sound different in old churches. They seem so much more resonant, Grace thought as she failed to walk softly down the long, wood-paneled hallway. She had hardly slept the night before. She had moved into her new apartment near the church a few days earlier, and had barely unpacked. She nudged the swinging door with her foot, wedging herself and her heavy box clumsily through. No one appeared to be in the main office. Grace released her box on the desk with a weighted thud, and looked around.

The main church building was old, built sometime before World War I; the front office was part of a newer wing, added in the 1960s, and kept with much the same décor. The avocado-colored curtains and matching abstract cross paintings were kind of cool in a “church retro” sort of way. However, the fabric was frayed, faded in places, and the corners of the paintings had yellowed. The large wood-grain desk sat against the right-hand wall.

Grace nearly jumped out of her shoes when she noticed a little girl sitting under her desk. The little girl was so quiet, staring out from beneath the desk with big black eyes. She sat next to a box that said “Lost and Found,” which she had emptied out on the carpet next to her. She didn’t say a word.

“Well, hello!” said Grace. “I didn’t see you there!”

The little girl didn’t reply. The silence was broken by rustling from a back room. The church secretary, whom Grace had met during her interview, emerged carrying a pile of papers.

“Grace!” George Hernandez said, greeting her with a smile. “Welcome! I see you’ve met my daughter. She’ll just be here for a few more minutes; the school bus picks her up outside the church so she’s only here until the bus comes. Isabella, this is Pastor Larson, the new pastor I told you about.”

The little girl, sitting stone-faced and silent, averted her eyes and raised her hand, waving. Grace waved back. Isabella and her jet black pigtails appeared to be 5.

“Let me show you to your office.” George put down his pile of papers, Grace grabbed her box of books and they entered her small but serviceable office. Grace was happy to note that all her books should fit just fine. After carefully lining up the first box of books on the shelves, Grace called down the hall to George. “I’ve got a few more boxes of books and stuff out in the car, so if you’re busy, I can just start … moving!”

“Actually,” said George, “there are some people in the outer office waiting to see you. I’ll show you around a little later — but I have to run to the bank to deposit the offerings and take Izzy to the bus.” He rushed back out into the main office. “Isabella, get your coat on. The bus will be here soon.”

‘Ribbing’ the new pastor

Grace returned to the outer office and found people waiting. She could not recall any of their faces from meetings she had had with the membership of Hope Lutheran. After a moment of polite hesitation a grizzled voice from the back spoke.

“Hear there’s a new padre startin’ today. Are you helpin’ him get settled?”

The group parted to reveal a man leaning on a gnarled, intricately carved cane. He was probably mid-60s in age, and was dressed all in black. His clothes carried the sagging appearance of having served their owner for many days and nights consecutively. They were probably fresh the last time their wearer had had a shave.

Grace returned to the outer office and found people waiting. She could not recall any of their faces from meetings she had had with the membership of Hope Lutheran.

“Well, um, yes you might say that,” answered Grace extending her hand. “I don’t think we have met. My name is Grace.”

“Name’s Billy.” He squinted menacingly at the others. “These two to my right are office volunteers, tweedledum and tweedledee.”

“No, we’re the Hansons, Merle and Muriel, and, yes, we are volunteers,” said Merle. Then the Hansons began to move nervously about the office avoiding eye contact, like when you know something is about to happen and you want to stay close enough to see but not so close you might become collateral damage.

“And these two to my left, “continuted Billy, “are the Bluett brothers. Their standard method of navigating life is to sin first and ask forgiveness later. They’re here to ask forgiveness. So, where’s the new padre?”

“I’m Pastor Larson … the, um, new padre.”

The man’s bushy eyebrows rose. Grace nodded, and he continued, leaning heavily on the cane. “My, my … lamb to the slaughter. And you’re a girl.”

“I prefer woman.” Grace looked him in the eye and gave him a wink.

The corners of his lip edged up. “Your first order of business, Pastor Larson, is to deal with the Bluetts.”

“Well, before I do that I’ll have to get to know you all a bit better, so how about if the four of us go out to my car and bring in the rest of my books?”

“That, Pastor Larson, would be a splendid idea except the reason the Bluetts want forgiveness is because they had your car towed.” Thus began Grace’s first day of life with Hope.

Mike Mann is a speaker, trainer, and award-winning storyteller. He is co-founder of the Center for Imagination (www.CenterFor Imagination.org). © Michael Mann, 2013.

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