My family and I were Episcopalians when I was young. For much of that time we attended an Episcopal mission in Lawton, Oklahoma called Saint Margaret’s. It was built in the southwestern mission style, and looked just like a Taco Bell.
As part of my parent’s plans and hopes for me to be a good Episcopalian, they “asked” me to be an acolyte, which as many of you know is the church’s equivalent to junior forest ranger.
My fellow acolytes and I were trained by a nice man who looked just like Don Rickles named Hal Sharp. He taught us when to kneel, when to stand, when to enter and exit, how to use the candle-lighter, how to tie our belt sash, and on and on. The Episcopal Church’s service is as rigid and dogmatic as any, so there were a lot of moves to memorize.
The first level of acolyte was simply “acolyte.” At this level, you carried tapers, lit and extinguished candles, and not much else. On high holidays like Easter you got to carry flags. The higher levels of acolyte were “crucifer” and “server.” The crucifer bore the huge brass cross on the handsome wooden standard, moved the lush, leather-bound Bible at the proper time, and held the Bible on its ornate brass stand during the Gospel lesson. The server assisted the priest at the credence table, giving him water, wine and wafers in the correct sequence.
When we were scheduled to be in a service, we would say that we were “on” Sunday.
I remember when I got “promoted” from mere acolyte to server. I suddenly thought the younger kids were little boys, and that I was a big, respected junior clergyman. As you can see from the photo, I was still very much a little boy.
My parents embraced the Episcopal Church for their entire lives. In Florida in the last 20 years of their lives, they were elders of Saint Thomas of Palm Coast, and their ashes are interred in the columbarium there. Despite their lifelong devotion, and to their chagrin, I never embraced the church, or any church. But when I was little, I imagined a beam of prayer energy shooting through the roof of our little Taco Bell up to God. My sister told me once that when she was very small, she thought our priest, grey-haired Bill Merrill, was God.
Though I found Episcopalianism obdurate and ritualistic, I did understand that its structure and elegance were of great comfort to my parents.