All that Religious Stuff
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Have you noticed it on my blog? If you haven’t, then you aren’t paying attention! Anyway, as most of you know, I serve in a church as assistant minister, director of Christian education, and communications director. I’ve been working in United Methodist Churches for, oh, I don’t know… let’s see: Norton (2 years), Bel Air (5 years), Little River (4 years), Sergeantsville (3 years), Manasquan (2 years), the Greater NJ United Methodist Conference Center (not a church, but the Annual Conference offices,1 Year), and First UMC Somerville (12 years next month). Eek! That equals 29 years.
One of the things I do is step in when the pastor is on vacation or out for other reasons. So, inasmuch, as my senior pastor will be on a well-deserved vacation for the next three weeks, I’ll be leading worship as well as preaching. On Zoom.
This Sunday also will be the first week for our substitute organist. And we don’t know how that is going to sound on Zoom because our regular organist, who is in Germany caring for her aging mom, had recorded a couple hundred hymns (I might be exaggerating here) so we could play them during our services. The substitute organist plans to play the hymns live. The unknown quantity is Zoom. It is kind of weird about music and can distort the sound as it goes from Point A to Point B. So, we’ll be seeing how worried we should be about that tomorrow during a “rehearsal.”
Another thing: I’ve never preached on Zoom. Oh, I’ve been doing a Bible study and several other meetings on Zoom. No problem there. But preaching is a whole different animal. Thank goodness a church member will be handling the technology for me once I appoint him as host on my Zoom site. With any luck, that will mean I won’t have to do this, “Friends, my point is that God wants us to… oh, hold on a second, someone’s in the Waiting Room…I have to click them in…”
It also promises to be hot and humid on Sunday. Since we do not meet in the building at the moment, the Trustees have turned off the air conditioning in our worship space (the technical, churchy name for it is “sanctuary”). So the organist and I will look forward to sweating up a storm and relying on fans, just like we did in the old days.
Seriously, I think Maggie and her crew from the 1860s had it easier. Is it hot? Of course it is, it’s summer. Here, use a hand fan. No organist? No problem! We sing a cappella. Everyone knows the hymns anyway. No preacher? Someone can get up and say a few words without it being a big deal. No church building in which to hold the service? Hey, kids, let put on a worship service right here in the barn, yeah!
That said, I am now inspired to put up a few blogs about how Maggie and her crew get their religion on.
To start with (just briefly), not everyone in the series is Methodist Episcopal (MEC). Nate and Emily Johnson, for instance, worship with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC).
The what? Aren’t you all just sort of Methodists? In a word, no. Here’s the story of the AMEC: In the 1700s, Black members within the Methodist Episcopal Church of Philadelphia had a mutual aid society called the Free African Society (FAS), formed in 1787. One day, while Black parishioners were praying at the altar at St. George’s MEC, some of the white parishioners thought they were taking too long and pulled them off their knees. Really impolite. Also racist. The FAS decided enough was enough and left that church. Most went over to the Protestant Episcopal Church, but a smaller group, led by Richard Allen went on to found Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1794.
There is a lot more to the story, and I encourage you discover it by going to https://www.ame-church.com/our-church/our-history/.
However, Emily and Maggie are friends, so there is no denominational tension between them. In fact, Maggie has worshiped with the AMEC on at least two occasions throughout the series. One of them occurs in my work-in-progress (WIP), when she becomes fed up with a group of annoying people at the Methodist Episcopal Church who enjoy nagging her about her “unusual” attitudes and behavior toward those “other” people. So she pulls up roots and starts attending the little AME Church that meets in the front parlor of Greybeal House.
Other religious affiliations within the household include Grandpa O’Reilly and the Birgit and Moira Brennan (governess and cook respectively) who are Roman Catholic. That’s all well and good, but then this scene intruded into my WIP:
After hurrying down the hall, Eli threw open the huge front door. When his eyes landed on who was standing outside, he nearly did a double take.
A red-haired, freckle-faced young man was facing him. What set him apart from anyone Eli would have expected as a visitor to Greybeal House, was the man’s long, black cassock and white clerical collar.
“Good morrow to ya,” the stranger said.
“Good morning,” Eli replied. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m here to see a Mr. James O’Reilly. Would you be he, sir?”
“Um… no. No, I’m not. My name is Smith, but please come in… Mr… Reverend…uh… sir.
“Father,” the young man corrected. “I’m Father Donald McLennon.” He grinned as Eli shut the door behind them. “I take it you’re not a Catholic.”
No. Eli definitely is not a Roman Catholic. His family belonged a meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. And, although Eli had a falling out with his childhood religion, he isn’t free of God, who seems to enjoy busting into his life at inconvenient moments. But that’s God for you.
So now you know why there’s this overarching spiritual theme in my books and how it manifests in my characters.
Stay well, my friends.
See you next week,
Janet R. Stafford
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder