My first church had several big holly trees planted right outside the sanctuary. Our sanctuary was an old, federal (built around 1820) buidling with big, clear windows. One Sunday right before Christmas, right during worship, most of the congregation could see through these windows that a man had set up a ladder right next to one of these trees and was snipping off small branches and putting them in a big plastic bag. One of the ushers went out to investigate.
"What are you up too?"
"Oh, just getting some holly for our Christmas decorations."
"Those are the church's trees, you know."
"And---well, we're right in the middle of a worship service."
"Uh-huh . . ."
Absolutely no indication that this guy (not a church member) had any clue that anyone might think that what he was doing was in any way inappropriate.
My first Christmas as a priest, I'd been ordained about 3 weeks, and was nervous and excited for my first Christmas. That year, Advent IV was also Christmas Eve. In addition to the late service in one town, I was doing a 5:00 service in another town about 60 miles away. At that point I was quite wedded to preaching from a manuscript and had worked on having every phrase just right. Everything went well in Torrington. It was a beautiful winter drive back to Lusk, but I had not allowed sufficient time to check things over as thoroughly as I should have before the service started. I was simply glad that all the purple hangings from the morning Advent had changed to Christmas white. You can imagine my chagrin when I climbed into the pulpit and looked down to see my morning Advent sermon instead of my great inaugural Christmas sermon. I have no reason to be afraid, because I knew there was a copy from Torrington in the front seat of my truck. I simply told the congregation I'd be right back. They were used to some surprising starts to my sermons and thought it was one of those times. When I went to the office, however, I couldn't find the keys to my truck right away. They weren't in my coat pocket, not in my purse. I stuck my head back into the church and said I'd be right with them. Ah, there they were in the pocket of my skirt. Reaching inside my alb I grabbed them, and began to run alongside the outside of the church to my truck. The sidewalk was solid ice and the congregation could hear my panicked screams as I slid toward and under the pickup. I recovered myself enough to open the truck, grab the sermon, and come back into the church where everyone chuckled a bit and I preached a pretty good sermon for a beginner. Grace abounded. Sometime later I listened to a tape of that night and though it seemed an eternity, the whole search and rescue only took about 1.5 minutes. Funny in a way how Christ is particularly incarnate in the times of chaos.
When our youngest child was not quite a year old we took him to the late Christmas Eve service, Midnight Mass. Before the service musicians would offer a program of carols and instrumental pieces. Our son fell asleep on the pew beside us in the darkened church. During a flute solo, lovely, quiet interlude, he rolled off the bench, there was a moment of stillness and then howls and tears. We grabbed him up and took him out - he was not injured - but the mood was broken for that night! Wonder if baby Jesus would have approved?
What tale do you have to tell?