For example, a few weeks ago, St. James hosted the annual sold-out spaghetti dinner. The event was a study in logistics, given the small old-fashioned kitchen and the equally cramped parish hall. The day before, enough pasta for 125 (including takeaway) was cooked, oiled, packed it into Pyrex bowls and covered with saran wrap for reheating the next day.
We also assembled the pasta sauces in massive slow cookers– at least they were larger than I had ever seen. Since most families host from 25 to 50 family members at Christmas, such capacious vessels are de riguer in local pantries. Greg walked over from our house periodically during the day of the supper to stir the sauces (regular and hot and spicy; no vegetarian this year). By 5:00 o’clock, so many electrical appliances were in use, including an electrified Thermos cooler for the ice cream, that the lights in the parish hall were kept off to avoid blowing the fuses.
We were in competition with the Legion’s Thursday night supper where roast beef was being served. One of our loyal helpers disappeared there – for his dinner. Afterwards, he told me he just does not like spaghetti sauce “served that way” i.e., on pasta. If he is going to have spaghetti, he wants “the kind that comes in tins.“
Meanwhile, the attendees were greeted by Greg and waited in the church until there was room at the two long tables in the parish hall. Greg delivered to shut-ins part of the time last year but was pressed into full-time duty in the church by a new warden who advised him this was a more seemly activity for the rector. She sat nearby taking tickets.
I am still learning to be useful. I tried opening tins of tomato sauce and would have been quite effective had I been able to work the electric can opener. My forte was wrapping cutlery in serviettes and setting out them on the place mats tastefully provided by the Primates’ World Relief and Development Fund.
The first time I tried to help at St. James – some years ago – was at a funeral reception. I wandered into the kitchen after the preparations were complete and noticed pieces of plastic wrap seemingly strewn across the kitchen table. I decided to toss them in the garbage. Then I hesitated – fortunately – because the rows and columns of saran were there on purpose – to wrap the left-overs. Waste not, want not and traditional methods are there for a reason seem to be the guiding principles here.
At our sister congregation of St. Mary’s, my learning curve was both steeper and more public. The Christmas bake sale and silent auction includes a cup of tea and a snack using fine china cups and plates. As the tea ended, I began to clear the little tables. One of the convenors sped across the room. “No, no dear, don’t take those to the kitchen.” “Oh,” I said. She explained that each lady brings a card table and a basket containing the table cloth, cutlery, cups, plates and serviettes and then after the event ends –about one hour after it begins – she packs everything up and takes it home to wash. “If we did it in the kitchen here, everyone’s china would get mixed up.”
Speaking of ingenuity in limited circumstances, take a look at the ladies in the altar guild who change the banners at the front of the church. This used to involve clambering over, around and above the organ console until the husband of one of them –like everyone around here, a hockey enthusiast – suggested a solution. He cut down two hockey sticks to equal lengths and put a notch in each end to hold the rod. Now two ladies can stand on the floor and easily lift the banner into place.
The Bishop’s recent episcopal visit to St. Mary’s caused a bit of a flurry. The pictures of all past rectors and several bishops hang in the parish hall where they provide an ecclesiastical je ne sais quoi for many social events. Unfortunately, the diocese now sends only one set of bishops’ photos to each parish despite the number of congregations it may contain. So in addition to his usual Sunday morning duties, Greg removed the photos of Bishops Bob and Terry from their place of honour at St. James and made sure they were in a prominent position in the parish hall at St. Mary’s for the duration of lunch.
Greg’s responsibilities go beyond stirring sauces and purloining portraits. He also takes out the re-cycling on garbage day and throws salt down on the sidewalk if he gets to church first on icy winter mornings. I, on the other hand, have avoided responsibility for anything on-going and predictable. I am available on a purely pro tem basis. However, I have joined the Evening Guild that meets in the afternoon, and my adventures there could provide fodder for another rustic report if readership should demand.
In the meantime, I am going bicycling with one of the wardens as soon as she gets air in the tires of her bike. She is over 80 and can’t use a hand pump the way she once could.