I attended a funeral for the husband of a friend of mine this weekend. It was held in an Episcopal church. I have not been in an Episcopal church since I left Florida some 20 years ago where I taught school at a small Episcopal private school. Not all the children belonged to that church and, in fact, I was not a member either. The school was one of a few private schools providing a solid college-bound education. They supported pre-school through high school. I taught third grade for three years and then demoted myself to first grade. I loved both grades for different reasons. There is nothing more exciting than seeing light bulbs come on over the heads of 6 and 7 year olds who have caught onto the code of reading. The third graders have mastered reading and are now finding out they can write their own books. My third graders used to ask if they could take their clipboards out to recess so they could continue their writing. Now that is a treasured memory to savor.
The school held required religion classes once a week. And once a week, the entire lower school attended chapel. The funeral I attended reminded me about the chapel experience. The church, the prayer books, the choir loft, the priests in robes, and the symbols of the denomination were prevalent in that church today. Part of our school’s lessons for the kids was to learn the meaning of those symbols. I have to admit I remember very little of that. What I do remember is Father H. in his white robe parading up and down the aisle of the church and between the pews where I sat with the lower school kids and their teachers. He was a parent of one of my students one year. He knew kids and he understood their impatience for sitting in a pew.
He alternated the Old Testament with the New every other year. He told of the many characters in both volumes, bring them to life as though they were living today. He had Abraham donning Reeboks and brushing his teeth with a camel’s hair toothbrush and saying, “Gee God… what am I gonna do about….” He ended each session with some poor character in the middle of a dilemma and would ask “Do you know what happened?” and the entire audience knew enough to say “You’ll tell us next week.” The next week he would ask the kids what they remembered, and they always did remember. I found after 6 years at that chapel service, I could answer a lot of the Bible questions on Jeopardy.
There was the year he told us we should do what our parents tell us to do. His son, sitting with my class turned bright red. He knew the story his dad was about to tell. They were on a boat and he told his son to throw over the anchor. I assume they were going to settle down to fish or something. The son hesitated and it was several requests before he obeyed his dad. Both of them watched the anchor go over the side of the boat along with the rope which was supposed to be tied to something on the boat; the anchor and rope sank to the bottom of the sea.
The kindergarten class took a field trip to the local museum where the Docent was telling them about life among the native Americans of the area. Along with the conversation she asked, “Do you know what they used for a toothbrush?” In unison the class responded. “Camel’s hair toothbrush.” The teacher smiled at the puzzled Docent and said; “It’s a long story.”
We learned about Noah who rose up in the morning and asked God what the plan was for the day, after, of course, he had donned his Reeboks and brushed his teeth with a camel’s hair toothbrush. God spoke to him… (I wish I could emulate the casual way Noah and God communicated in current lingo)…” There’s gonna be a lot of rain. You better go build an ark. Build it from gopher wood”… (I had to look that one up).. and when it was built, God told Noah to round up all the animals. Father H. would then walk the aisle in the church lumbering like an elephant, and tip-toeing like a rabbit and hopping like a frog and took suggestions for the rest of the crew. Then he said the rain came and came and the boat drifted off on the water. Noah went to bed and slept well after all that work. The next morning he got up….and yes, the shoes and the teeth, and then got his shovel and went way down into the bottom of the boat…. and here Father H. was using his imaginary shovel and digging away.
The teachers burst out laughing. The kids looked a little stunned and then whispers went through the hall. Not one of them had ever thought about a boat load full of animals in quite that way.