Where Are Your Candles?

Photo on 10-10-13 at 6.35 PMThe mystery woman appeared early on a Sunday morning.

This was years ago, but it’s one of those peculiar memories that randomly resurface, still prompting me to sigh and scratch my head.

I stood in the sanctuary behind the pulpit, jotting reminder notes for the upcoming 8:30am worship celebration. Peggy, the accompanist, softly rehearsed the music she’d soon play. Somewhere in another building, Wally—the weekend custodian—was probably arranging chairs in classrooms or emptying trash. It was like most Sunday mornings before the choir arrived to warm-up and the congregation gathered for worship.

Then she walked in.

Never seen her before. I’d been at the church long enough to know (almost) everyone. On a typical Sunday I could forecast the arrival time and order of the regulars, and also who would show up, like clockwork, right after the prayer of confession was finished. I could even confidently predict who’d leave before the benediction. Some people don’t wait for the pastor to send them out into the world.

She wandered through a side door, well dressed but not over-dressed, and slowly circled the room. In the simple rectangular sanctuary, her journey didn’t take long.

Was she a visitor, having miscalculated how long it took for the drive to an unfamiliar church? Maybe she planned to meet a friend and had arrived first? Or perhaps she had a flat tire and needed help?

She walked down the center aisle toward me.

I greeted her. “Good morning.”

“Where are your candles?”

I reacted with a blank stare.

Then, in order to get closer to her, I left my notes on the pulpit and stepped down from the chancel area to the sanctuary floor. With both of us at the same level, I said something brilliant like, “Candles?”

“To light,” she said. “Where are your candles?” Continue reading →