Margaret Brown with a look of forced frivolity on her face.

Margaret Brown with a look of forced frivolity on her face.

“I think we should get the white wine out of the refrigerator before we go to the 11 0’clock,” Margaret said feverishly as she rushed plates of chicken salad sandwiches, benne wafers and raspberry bars to the linen-covered tables in Otey Hall.

“Margaret,” I said. “This service is going to take forever. We are practically reading through the entire Book of Common Prayer with 16 confirmations and four baptisms. If we put the wine out now it will achieve room temperature before we ever get back.”

The Right Reverend John C. Bauerschmidt visits each church in the parish once a year. And Margaret, as head of the Hospitality Committee, only has one chance to show him our stuff. The Women of St. Paul’s awesome stuff. The chocolate-covered strawberries the size of cabbages. The homemade pimento cheese sandwiches cut into perfect, crustless triangles. The boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce, for God’s sake (I believe God is completely on board with shrimp cocktail).

WineAnd the wine. Why wouldn’t you celebrate the Bishop’s visit with a wee glass of wine at 12:30 in the afternoon? I am completely astounded at the churches that have not embraced this concept. No wonder attendance at some places of worship is down. At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church you can barely get through the doors when the Bishop comes, what with the promise of a nice glass of Chardonnay after the service.

I have to tell you the work of putting on the reception is back breaking. We start at 9 in the morning and we are not done until clean-up is finished at 3 in the afternoon. It’s not just putting out the food. It’s constantly patrolling to detect

Hold high the Cross.

Hold high the Cross.

almost empty platters that must be replenished. It’s precisely cutting the giant Cross-shaped cake with both lemon and chocolate layers that are required to be equally distributed on the cake plates.

Here’s the sad fact. I have been on the work crew of Bishop’s receptions for the last, oh, 10 years. And I have never seen the Bishop get even remotely close to the tables bursting with the culinary contributions of good Christian women much less the wine table, which I was going to call the bar but that sounds just a touch too crass.

So this year, emboldened by a half a glass of Pinot Grigio, I approached Bishop Bauerschmidt and requested that he hold a cheese straw as proof that our spiritual leader actually eats something at the reception. And he did it. He was a good egg. He ate the cheese straw, which he pronounced “good.” And then he ate another. I feel as though we’ve had a breakthrough here.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Cheese Straws.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Cheese Straws.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted. And poor Margaret. She kept mumbling about passing along the chairmanship of the Hospitality Committee next year. Fat chance, Margaret. But as I sat across the street from Otey Hall, on a concrete bench in front of the youth building (where there were, fortunately, no youth because I was smoking my first cigarette of the afternoon) I marveled at our congregation. Particularly the women. I’ve gotten soppy about this before and will now do so again. These women will break their backs to put on the best show they can. Not because the Bishop will graze endlessly at the tables of food. But just because he might.

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