A Spirit of Hope
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. 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.
Mick the custodian’s clothing and hair were rumpled, and he was clearly winded. “Tommy challenged me to a foot race,” he said sheepishly. Tommy the weekend custodian was 20 years younger and liked needling Mick about moving like an old man. Mick had let the needle prick his pride and accepted the challenge.
Mick winced, “If I hadn’t tripped, I would have won.”
Behind him, Tommy appeared with the first aid kit. “Come on, old-timer, let’s get you patched. Unless you need a hip replacement — I’ll need different tools for that.”
Once it was clear that Mick’s pride was what hurt the most, Grace asked, “The sanctuary lights were dimming periodically during the sermon last Sunday. Is there some faulty wiring?”
“A … ghost? Muriel! You have got to be kidding.”
Muriel Hanson, office volunteer, burst in with the Sunday bulletins and answered Grace’s question, “The lights?” With a conspiratorial tone, “Didn’t you know our building has a ghost?”
Grace replied, “A… ghost? Muriel! You have got to be kidding.”
Muriel began stapling bulletins. “This is a very old building, you know. Ask Irene Dooly. She’ll tell you some stories. I’ve heard some strange noises in this building.”
Mick leaned back. “For heaven’s sake, Muriel. I told you that was old plumbing. We fixed it.”
Tommy smiled wryly. “I overheard the Bible school kids last summer talking about seeing and hearing some odd things, even after the plumbing was fixed.”
Mick rolled his eyes. “You guys need more entertainment in your lives. There’s no ghost. I’ll go check the wiring, I’m sure it’s just shorting out.” He stood and hobbled out the door.
Tommy turned to Grace, still smiling slightly. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Only the Holy Spirit,” said Grace. “But if it’s the wiring, Mick will fix it.”
Keep an open mind
Tommy, who seemed always to be on the edge of mischief, leaned back in his chair folding his arms. “Sometimes the solutions you’re looking for will come from places you don’t expect. Keep an open mind.”
Grace furrowed her brow, unsure what Tommy meant. That evening, she was locking up faster than usual. She didn’t believe in ghosts, but she was happy to be out of the building.
The next morning, Grace arrived to find the Bluetts at the front door with a tape recorder and video camera. “Hey, Pastor Larson!” Ned Bluett waved. “We heard there’s a ghost in the building, and we want to catch it on camera!”
Todd held up the tape recorder. “It’s well known that if you record yourself asking a ghost questions, and you play back the recording, you’ll hear answers! Would it be okay if we try to catch the ghost in the act?”
Grace took a deep breath and held in her laughter. “Tommy will be in soon to set up for Sunday, so as long as you don’t bother him, it should be okay.”
“We’ll need to be in the sanctuary with the lights off,” said Todd. Grace nodded in affirmation, and the Bluetts disappeared in the direction of the sanctuary.
Later, Tommy came into the office a little early for a cup of coffee. “Did Mick find anything wrong with the wiring?” asked Grace.
Tommy sipped his coffee gingerly. “No, he didn’t. I guess the dimming of the lights remains a mystery.” He poured an unhealthy amount of sugar into his cup and took another sip. “Do you know what the Bluetts are up to in the sanctuary? When I got here, all the lights were off, and they were taking pictures and yelling.”
Grace sighed. “The Bluetts heard about our ghost, and they are trying to get recordings and pictures. I told them to stay out of your way; if they’re bugging you, let me know.”
In the mood
Hours later, as Grace was trying to put the finishing touches on her sermon, the doors to the office flew open and the Bluetts toppled in. “We heard it! We heard the ghost! We have it on the voice recorder!”
Grace and George looked at each other. George turned to the Bluetts. “What?”
Todd’s hand shook so much he could hardly press the play button. “Hear for yourself. It called us by name.”
The tape recorder whirred to life, and Ned’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Ghost of Hope Lutheran! Who are you, and how did you die?”
Grace suspected that she had been avoiding Martin since the morning he had issued his list of expectations.
What they all heard next made George and Grace jump. A distinct, growling voice responded. “Ned Bluett. Todd Bluett.” The voice continued, “Is there a third brother named … Really Bluett?”
“For heaven’s sake!” George groaned as he rose from his desk. “Tommy!” he hollered down the hall. “Quit messing with the sound system! You’re scaring the Bluetts!”
Grace struggled to keep a straight face as the Bluetts exited, looking defeated at the debunking of their ghost.
By Sunday morning, Grace had forgotten the ghost. But, as she placed her notes on the pulpit and began speaking, the lights suddenly dimmed.
Grace stumbled over her words, caught herself, and moved on. Then the lights got brighter. Grace held her rhythm concentrating on her text while the lights went up and down twice more during the sermon.
After the service, as Grace was greeting the parishioners, she came face to face with Martin Joneson, church council president. She suspected that she had been avoiding Martin since the morning he had issued his list of expectations. She had to choose her words carefully.
Then Tommy’s words came to mind: “Sometimes the solutions you’re looking for will come from places you don’t expect. Keep an open mind.”
“Martin, have you noticed the lights during the sermon?” she asked.
“That’s Bobby Eberstark,” said Martin. “When he ushers, he likes to monkey with the lights. Claims he’s trying to get the mood right.”
Grace burst out laughing. Martin looked at her strangely, and Grace struggled to compose herself. “I was meaning to have a chat with Bobby anyways.”
Martin stiffened “You’re not going to let a little thing like that bother you, are you?”
“Oh, no,” said Grace still smiling. “I have no intentions of dampening Bobby’s spirit.”
Mike Mann is a speaker, trainer, and award-winning storyteller. He is co-founder of the Center for Imagination (www.CenterForImagination.org). © Michael Mann, 2013.