To really enjoy this sermon you ought to listen to it. Take my word for it, it’ll be more fun that way. Press play below.
United Church of Jaffrey
Every week, when it comes time to change the message on the sign out in front of the church, I always think of Archie Coll.
Especially this time of year.
There’s a good story to tell here – one that goes, quite literally, to the heart of our community — but when I think about it, it doesn’t actually start with Archie. It starts with the indomitable Cynthia Hamilton who arrived at the Deacons meetings, one Thursday afternoon a few years back, with a proverbial Bee in her bonnet.
“Now listen here,” she said “I’ve got something to say!”
Uh oh! We all sat up straight.
“Have any of you taken a good look at our church sign lately? I don’t think it’s had any attention since 1973! It’s disgraceful, and I think it’s about time something was done about it!”
Bob Dunn’s eye’s widened. He’d come to the deacons meeting on an innocent mission to offer us his monthly visioning passage. But this topic was one he could speak to, because, until I’d taken a recent interest in the sign, he’d been the one sporadically putting up message.
Bob nodded his head sagely.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” he agreed. “It needs more than a coat of paint. It’s nearly impossible to come up with a good message because the longest word that will fit on the sign is the word “Christmas.”
“Well,” I said, “thank heavens that word fits!”
Bob laughed, but you could see he’d taken the whole thing to heart, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before he walked into my office and presented me with a really quite impressive technical sketch of his vision of a newly renovated sign (who knew Bob was secretly an architectural draftsman?)
Bob had solved the “Christmas-or-shorter” problem by taking the old sign, that was separated into two sections on each facing side, and merging the sections into one. The new sign would give me a wide expanse to fill as my little heart desired. I’d be able to write sentences!
And this, dear friends, is when Archie entered the fray. He looked over Bob’s sketch, and you could just see the gears starting to crank. There was a son-in-law somewhere who knew this and that about making signs. There was a line he had on getting some plexiglass cheap. You’re familiar with the kind of Archie thoughts that I’m talking about.
And Archie wasn’t one to just think about getting something done. Once he was on the case, things actually did get done, and LO it came to pass, that the day soon came when Archie and I were standing out there, in front of a beautifully renovated sign.
“Wow!” I said.
“Still needs a final coat of green along the top edge,” Archie said.
“Wow!” I said again.
Archie presented me with a box that was filled with spiffy new letters.
I looked at the letters, and then I looked at the sign. “Look at all the space I have to work with…” I said.
“You’ve got all the space in the world,” Archie said. After a moment, he added: “Now you’ve got to come up with something to say.”
“I don’t think I’ll have any trouble with that…” I said.
“No, sir,” Archie said with a wry smile, “I’m sure you won’t.”
And that sounds like the end of the story, but I assure you it is not.
As the weeks passed, you can be sure that I did spread my wings and make use of all that extra space on the sign. Some of the more memorable sermon titles that ended up there were things like:
“Down By the Sea of Tiberius.”
“Of Religion and the Phillips-head screwdriver.”
“The Great Moosetracks Ice Cream Cone Incident”
“The Nobel Prize in Vacuuming”
And the ever popular…
“Helicopter Egg Drop Soup.”
There is a downside to the new sign, but unless you are an extraordinarily observant person, or you are obsessively interested in the UCJ church sign, I’m pretty sure you haven’t noticed it.
There is, shall we say, a certain, very subtle seasonal variation in the sermon titles that appear on our newly functional and dignified looking church sign.
When the weather gets warmer, the sermon titles get longer.
Or rather, more to the point, when the weather gets colder, the sermon titles get shorter…
You can be sure that I will, in due time, reveal the mystery behind this seasonal variation in sermon title length – or rather, I will let Archie tell you – but before we circle back to that Spring morning when Archie unveiled the renovated sign, I cannot help indulging you with another surprisingly revealing little tale that has to do with that church sign.
One day – I think it was last year sometime – well into the era of the new church sign — I happened to wander into the Mildred Cutter Parish Hall while the Friendly Meals was going on. If you happen to wander into the Mildred Cutter Parish Hall while the Friendly Meals is going on, you are bound to run into either Kathleen Larou, or Pat Bullock – probably both. On this occasion I came upon Pat Bullock, who was in the act of wiping off the kitchen counter. When she saw me, her eyes glinted with that very particular Pat Bullock mischievous glint.
“I left something for you…” she said
“Yes,” she said, the hint of a smile playing on her lips, “in your mailbox.”
“Oh, OK.” Naturally my curiosity was peaked.
“It’s very important,” she said. And then after a moment, she added: “You can’t have a church without it!”
Well, if my curiosity was peaked before, it was now going full tilt. I made my way up to my mailbox where I found a little white envelope with my name written in a precise cursive hand on the front.
I opened the envelope and looked inside.
I stood there for about 30 seconds, thinking about Pat’s words… and then I understood!
“Ahhh!!! I thought… How right she is!
OK… So know there are two mysteries to resolve. And they are related to each other! I’m rather proud of myself, how this sermon is coming together!
The first mystery concerns Archie, and the seasonal variation in sermon titles.
The second mystery concerns Pat Bullock and the terribly important contents of that little white envelope!
Let us return to that lovely Spring morning when Archie was unveiling the new sign…
“There is one thing…” Archie said, as I surveyed that gorgeous new sign.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You’ll have to change the sign out here…”
Looking things over, I saw what he meant….
Let me explain… You see, the way the old sign was designed, you could remove the board where the letters were inserted, bring the whole thing indoors, set it down on a table in the parish hall, and, in this civilized way, take your time dreaming up and lettering the wording for the sign. When you were done, you could bring the whole kit and caboodle back out again and stick it in the display. With this new sign, you couldn’t remove the board – it was permanently installed, so the whole maneuver would have to be done outside.
Archie watched my face as the implications of this sank in…. he smiled…
“You’re going to love me in February when you are up to your knees in snow…”
“You can say that again!” I said.
So you can see why – even though this tale of the sign involves many members of the UCJ family – the first person who comes to mind when I change the church sign – especially this time of year – is Archie…
And even though Archie was joking around when he said I was going to “love” him, when I was up to my knees in snow, changing the sign – turns out he was not wrong…
That is how I feel about him, when I am up to my knees in snow changing the church sign.
I remember Archie lovingly, as I spell out short sermon titles.
And this line of thought, if you really want to know, leads very sweetly to the resolution of this morning’s second mystery…
Who wants to know what was in that envelope?
Pat was quite correct, the contents of that envelope was indeed something that you cannot have a church without.
Out of that envelope came the letter “V”
Since, with this new sign, I had to change the sign outside, I’d somehow dropped a letter “V”, and Pat had found it, floating around in the grass.
You can’t have a church without the letter “V” because, of course, the letter V is at the center of the one word that is at the heart of church.
And this all came to me, this week as I changed the words on the sign, that told everyone driving by that this week…
Like every week…
We, here at the United Church of Jaffrey