This is awkward, because I am not often asked to help with things. Maybe people can just tell I am a klutz by nature, or shy, or I am just that good at not being visible. Whatever, somehow I was noticed and asked to help at my church altar guild.
There is an abbey near Charleston that offers silent prayer retreats where I have gone a few times to regroup my life. I love going there, it is in a beautiful setting on the Cooper River, it is actually the former plantation where Clare Boothe Luce lived as a married woman. Her library is still there. So each morning there is a mass and different retreatants are asked to bring the gifts. This one time I was given the carafe of wine. Terrified, I gingerly carried this beautiful symbol, slowly and thankfully without incident.
So this should encourage me, and when the chair of the guild told me to decant the pitchers of water and wine I did so, she was at the moment out of the building discussing I supposed something with the priest, I chose a bottle she had been given by a member of the congregation, not the usual label.
Upon her return she exclaimed and laughed uncomfortably, explaining she had not intended it to be used this Sunday, how so many would complain, and had I tasted it? No, I hadn’t, so she poured off some in an empty plastic water bottle, drank a little and made a face like someone who ate a lemon. She shoved the bottle at me, “Here, you try this,” so I did.
It burned like fire.
Now understand no one ever gets more than a taste of wine at the communion rail, but with this wine that’s more than enough. Holy Spirit’s fire is rivaled by this wine. I understood why Native Americans called whiskey fire water. So I offered to pour it back. She totally ignored me! Chattering away, clearly to herself about looking forward to the expressions of everyone as they drank this wine, what the priest would think… and she told me to put the water and wine decanters by the altar.
She showed me how to dress the altar table for the service, how to prepare the chalices, how to fill the candles with oil and the sanctuary lamp and check the wicks. We put the host wafers in the paten, the priest’s wafer in the larger chalice one, placed everything on the altar.
And then we were finished. She collected her things, directed me to the fellowship hall to help her fill the coffee maker tanks with water for after service. Looking at me pointedly as we prepared to leave she mentioned she also had another lady in mind to help with the altar guild.
I think I might have been fired on my first day!