A Missed Collection

i’ve been in the memory mode for a couple of weeks. Lots of reasons. Primarily, i’m remembering because i’m old and wishing for all things past that were good. i’m always amazed i forget the bad things first.

But one memory is both good and bad. Certainly bad at the time.

It happened in church. The First Methodist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. On East Main. The Sunday night service, probably around 7:20 p.m., maybe a bit later. 1960 or 1961. It was about in the middle of the pews under the balcony. That’s where we would sit. In other services, the 8:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. services, we would sit with our families. But on Sunday nights, it was a whole different thing. Everything was different. Sometimes they would even roll in the piano from the fellowship hall or the choir room or the old hall in the old wing and play it instead of the pipe organ. The men’s chorus assembled for a supper cooked by the women in Fellowship Hall, while on the other side of the partition, the Methodist Youth Fellowship attended their weekly meeting. After the supper, the men would practice their one or two specials for the service and then the two groups would filter into the sanctuary where the wives and younger children would take their seats. Under the balcony was the not really but really reserved seats for the MYF attendees, at least a majority of them.

As i remember this evening, Henry Harding, Sharry Baird, Jimmy Gamble, Marcia Emmert, Linda Leftwich, Ann Clark, Martha Donnell, several more i will remember as soon as i post this, and me. i am guessing my sister was there too. i’m not sure all of these folks were there, but that was the usual cast of suspects. i cannot remember if i was sitting next to Sharry or Linda, but i’m sure it was one of them. Henry was sitting on my other side with Jimmy Gamble next to him. i actually think i remember Judy Lewis had left the MYF session early for some reason. i remember watching her head out of the back door of Fellowship Hall wondering where she was going.

The opening rituals had been observed, and as usual two or three gospel songs had been sung. The men’s choir had sung their special arrangement directed by the choir director of all things, Burton Wilson, and was singing another special for the offertory. The ushers had passed the collection plate back and forth along the aisles of the main sanctuary and begun the collection process under the balcony — the balcony was nearly always empty during the 8:30 and evening services but packed to the gills at the 11:00 service when the Castle Heights cadets would march from the hilltop down main to the church, file in, remain militarily silent during the service, file out and march back up to the campus at the conclusion.

Amongst the MYFer’s, silence was not golden during that evening service. Whispering was the modus operendi in between the gospel songs. Occasionally, a titter might become a muffled laugh, but looked upon askance by the group, while ignored by the minister and the congregation although i’m sure mothers and fathers were taking mental notes. Actually i know because of the several lectures i received on the way home.

i would like to blame at least part of it on one of the others with me, but i had already established myself as a goofball and bumbler. i have later added forgetful and artful loser of things of all sorts. i think this particular incident sealed my fate.

When the collection plate ushers came to our aisle, the collection plate moved from our right to the left. Being the evening service, the plate did not contain a lot of the tithing envelopes or larger bills like the morning services. The evening service yielded some five and one dollar bills and lots of change.

i know there was lots of change in that plate that night because as Sharry passed it to me (i’m now pretty sure it was Sharry), i reached into my pocket for a quarter or more with my right hand while reaching for the plate with my left hand.

This was not a wise decision or a good move. The gold metal plate with the maroon cloth bottom slipped from my left hand and dropped to the floor. It made a loud clanging noise as hit the wood floor. Change was rolling everywhere. The plate did not lay down but rolled crazily under the pews toward the front of the sanctuary. To me, the clang sounded like a nuclear blast and the noise of the plate and change rolling everywhere was a cacophony of an orchestra warming up with discordant notes.

i tried to act as if nothing had happened as church goers began to collect what change they could and pick up the finally still collection plate to hand back to the ushers. Of course, the gang around me was giggling and trying suppress outright guffaws.

It was not a good night for me. i think it started me down my path of goofiness, which i have never lost.

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