There was a little Episcopal church in Alto, Tennessee, which itself is barely a bump in the road. Through the grace of God, the church acquired a brand new priest, a man who had just graduated from seminary and had been drawn to the church and two others that were even smaller. In all, the three churches had less than 50 members. And it came time to ordain the priest, a grand occasion that brings the bishop calling. The people of the church were apprehensive. They had no choir, they had never seen more than two dozen people in their tiny sanctuary. They had no experience throwing a huge celebratory reception.
But their new priest had lived another life. He had been a well-known architect. And he had been a long-time member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin. The people in Alto called the people in Franklin for assistance.
The ordination and reception were yesterday. It was a beautiful event. The little kitchen at Christ Church in Alto was crowded with women from Christ Church and St. Paul’s, who turned out a lovely spread.
Donna Stokes-Rogers, our music director and de facto resident gourmet at St. Paul’s, had visited at Christ Church a few weeks before to teach them how to set up the massive buffet and, yes, to go over the music. The Consort of St. Paul’s sang at the ordination, the first time the little church had been graced with a choir.
Episcopal women are Episcopal women the world over and, whether from a big church or small, they intuitively know how to throw a reception. There was chicken salad, of course. And pimento cheese. And deviled eggs. And ham on yeast rolls. And sausage balls, which you really must have. Some of the food came out of the tiny kitchen. Some of it traveled an hour and a half from Franklin. Once it was on the table, no one knew the difference.
And the new priest? The Reverend Bill Barton is now official. Here he is addressing his new church, with members of his old church mingling in the crowd. He hopes that by hearing our choir, his new flock will embrace more music in their own services.
The morning of the ordination, it snowed in Middle Tennessee. Traffic accidents closed down I-24 and I spent an hour and a half traveling the treacherous back roads with pimento cheese sandwiches and silver platters in the trunk. Most of the time I was lost and as 10 a.m. drew closer, when the ceremony was scheduled to begin, I thought of turning back. It’s only tea sandwiches, I thought. Maybe no one would notice I wasn’t there.
But everyone else traveling from Franklin and Nashville was in the same boat. The bishop was late. Some of Bill’s own family was late. I was in good company.
The bishop said sometimes it takes a lot of different communities to make things happen. That certainly was the case in Alto. It was one of the most precious mornings of my life. At the end of the ornate printed program, there were thank you’s – to Donna for her music and mentoring, to the people of the three tiny churches for “the ground of their ministry”, to the Consort. And finally, this:
Special thanks to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, for everything.