Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ian Part II: The Communion Disaster

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In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. At five minutes before the start of service, choir director Shane Reed was seated in his place to the right side of the chancel behind organist Walter Tibble. Seated nearby were Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell and the new Associate Pastor, Michelle Tellum.

Shane snuck a glance at Michelle every few seconds. Michelle was a pretty 28 year-old blonde with long eyelashes. She was wearing a liturgical robe because it was Communion Sunday and on her feet she had shiny, strappy black sandals with a low heel. Shane, 33 years old and divorced, found the look terribly sexy, which in turn made him feel guilty given where they were.

Michelle, meanwhile, was mentally preparing for her first time assisting with Communion in the little church. It was a simple process, really, but she found that the more serious ceremonies made her overly nervous. Periodically she would look out at the pews as the congregation filled them. One of those looks caused her churning stomach to do a back flip.

A dashingly handsome young man named Ian had just entered the church. Ian was not a regular congregant. Rather, Michelle had met him a few days before while on a hospital visit. They had flirted and Michelle felt a chemistry between them… until Ian discovered she was a pastor. Michelle found her job often defused chemical reactions between her and members of the opposite sex.

The real question was what was Ian doing slipping into the back pew this particular morning?

It seemed unlikely that he was looking for a new church and by pure coincidence showed up at hers. But it seemed equally unlikely that he was there specifically to see her considering how awkwardly their prior meeting had ended. She regretted not spending more time on her hair that morning, but was grateful she was wearing the stylish new sandals she’d bought at the mall the previous week.

Michelle made it through the bulk of the service trying and mostly failing not to look directly at Ian. Then Pastor O’Donnell finished his sermon and it was time for Communion.

Michelle was to serve the bread, which had been cut into small chunks and placed in a gold plated Communion bowl. She took the bowl from the altar and walked toward the front of the chancel where Pastor O’Donnell would bless it. She hoped Ian could see her fancy shoes from the back of the church.

Then those shoes played a nasty trick on her. The toe of the left one somehow managed to catch on the carpet, causing her to stumble. The entire congregation gasped as Michelle plunged forward. The Communion bowl flew from her hands, hit the ground, and scatted pieces of bread halfway up the aisle. Michelle landed flat on her stomach, banging her nose painfully on the floor.

Pastor O’Donnell and Shane ran to her aid. “Are you all right? Your nose is bleeding,” O’Donnell said. Shane retrieved a tissue and they tore off pieces to jam in her nostrils. Though her nose throbbed, the only serious damage was to Michelle’s dignity.

“Communion’s ruined!” she moaned quietly.

“Nonsense,” Pastor O’Donnell said, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. He knew how she felt. He’d had a similar accident in one of his prior appointments; only his involved the Communion cup and the replacement of the carpet in the Sanctuary. “We just need to get more bread.”

“I’ll do it,” Shane said, and hustled out of the church. Pastor O’Donnell helped Michelle back to her seat and then told the congregation they’d be changing the order of service and doing the final hymn before Communion. As everyone began singing, Michelle slumped behind the pulpit where Ian couldn’t see her.

Shane went to the closest place to get bread at 11:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning – the liquor store two blocks away. The only bread they had were hot dog buns, which Shane thought was odd since they didn’t seem to have any hot dogs for sale. He grabbed two bags and went to the counter, trying to ignore the customers staring at his choir robe.

That’s when he discovered he’d left his wallet in his jacket back in the choir room. He looked around at the handful of people who were purchasing alcohol on a Sunday morning. They did not look particularly friendly but he was desperate.

“Would anybody be willing to contribute a dollar or two so a church can do Communion?” he asked.

The customers shuffled and avoided his eyes. “Just take it,” the cashier grumbled behind him. “You’re making everyone uncomfortable.”

“I’ll bring the money this afternoon,” he promised and ran out of the store.

After service, Shane found Michelle skulking in a corner at the back of the Social Hall during coffee hour. “How’s your nose?” he asked.

“Okay,” Michelle said, her voice flat due to the tissue still jammed up her nostrils.

Shane noticed that she kept glancing nervously at the milling crowd. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “Everyone will have forgotten about your little tumble by next week.”

Michelle doubted that, but she was actually looking at Ian. She figured he would have bolted as soon as he could but somehow there he was on the other side of the room, sipping a cup of bad coffee as Missy Moore chatted away at him. Missy made it a point to greet all newcomers and find out everything she could about them in the interest of being welcoming. Somehow they always ended up learning more about her than the other way around.

Michelle was debating whether to go rescue Ian from Missy’s inquisition or find somewhere to hide until he left when she realized Shane had just asked her a question. “What was that?” she said.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Oh, yeah. Sure.”

Shane went to the coffee table and Michelle took the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room to clean herself up. She removed the tissue from her nose, fixed her hair and touched up her make-up. When she emerged, she discovered Ian coming straight toward her. She froze. There was no avoiding him now.

“Hi,” he said. “I was just looking for the restroom.”

“Right there,” Michelle said, nodding toward the men’s room.

“Actually, I was just looking for an excuse to get away from that rather enthusiastic woman I was talking to.”


“I didn’t realize services in your church were so entertaining,” Ian continued. “I’ll definitely have to come back.”

Michelle blushed, but mustered up the courage to seize the opening. “Why did you come today?” she asked.

“You left so fast when we met I didn’t get a chance to ask for your phone number,” he said. “But it was pretty easy to figure out which church was yours on the Internet. The church website could use some work, by the way.”

“I’ll look into that,” she promised.

“Anyway, can I buy you lunch?”

“Sure,” Michelle beamed.

“First you might want to…” he gestured to her nose.

She touched it with a finger and discovered it was bleeding again. “Right,” she said and went back into the bathroom.

Around the corner Shane stood with two cups of coffee. He’d heard the whole exchange. He dumped one of the cups in a nearby trashcan and quietly slipped away. It was no big deal. He needed to go back to the liquor store and pay for the hot dog buns anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ian Part I: The Hospital Disaster

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Recently, Michelle Tellum joined the church as the Associate Pastor reporting to Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell. Michelle was an excellent young pastor – energetic, organized, a good mediator and problem solver. Perhaps most important, she had the ability to listen to endless debate about such controversial topics as the color of the new carpet or the type font in the bulletin without resorting to unseemly violence.

Michelle was also a young woman. A young single woman. And she was very concerned about the prospect of becoming a middle aged single woman. Michelle loved being a pastor, but she also wanted to be a wife and mother some day.

She had several things working on her behalf in this regard. First, she was quite pretty. Second, she was surprisingly hip for a clergy person. She knew all the hot new bands and liked romantic comedy and horror movies. She dressed stylishly, although she was careful not to be seen wearing anything that could be considered scandalous by members of her congregation. She was also an avid water skier. Working against her were the conclusions men tended to jump to when told her profession, and the fact that she could be terribly clumsy. Which explains the embarrassing conditions under which she met Ian.

It all happened because Michelle was late to her first hospital visit. Seventy year-old Henrietta Miggins, a lifelong congregant at the little church, was having minor surgery. Pastor O’Donnell, church secretary Tammy Billings, and Michelle were going to visit her in the recovery room that afternoon to cheer her up. Michelle thought that should be interesting since in the month she’d been at the little church she’d yet to see Henrietta appear in any way cheerful.

However Michelle had to meet the others at the hospital because she was forced to spend the morning waiting for the cable installer at her new apartment. The cable company had given her a helpful four-hour window and the installer arrived only an hour after that window. Perhaps that sounds unlikely, but the Normal cable company has much better customer service than most.

Complicating matters, Michelle had never been to the hospital before and, much to her embarrassment, her sense of direction was laughably bad and got worse when she hurried. Despite the modest size and general grid layout of Normal, Michelle made several wrong turns and arrived fifteen minutes after she had agreed to meet the others.

Michelle screeched into the first available parking spot she saw. She hopped out of the car, slammed the door, and clicked the “lock” button on her key fob all in one motion. She started for the hospital entrance, but was pulled up short. Her sudden stop caused her to drop her keys, which bounced under the adjacent car, a red SUV.

Michelle looked back to see what had stopped her and discovered she’d slammed the hem of her skirt in the car door. Which was now locked. She gave the skirt an experimental tug but it was stuck fast. She kneeled down to retrieve her keys and found they were a tantalizing six inches out of her reach.

At first she laughed at the ridiculousness of her predicament. She lay prone on the asphalt, stretching and twisting, all to no avail. Then she let out a string of decidedly un-ladylike and un-pastor like profanity. After which a voice said, “what seems to be the problem?”

Michelle quickly climbed to her feet, her face flushing crimson. The owner of the voice was a handsome young man in his mid-twenties. He wore casually hip clothes and a bandage on his wrist. His hair was tousled in a sexy way that some men spend too much time in front of a mirror trying to achieve. Michelle simultaneously felt her heart skip a beat and her face flush even more.

“I dropped my keys,” she said, “and, well, I’m kind of stuck. Do you think you could get them for me?”

“I imagine I could,” the good-looking gentleman said with a twinkle in his eye, “but I like to know the names of distressed damsels before I rescue them.”

“Michelle,” she said.

“Ian,” he told her and offered his bandaged hand. She shook it gently but he still cringed.

“What happened?” Michelle asked.

“Sprained my wrist while I was getting a kitten out of a tree for a little girl.”

“Really?” Michelle’s heart skipped another beat. Good thing I’m at a hospital, she thought.

“No,” he admitted. “Actually I tripped on the curb while going to get a bagel this morning. I just thought the kitten story might impress you. Hold on.”

He disappeared around the other side of the red SUV. Michelle took advantage of those few seconds to fix her hair in the rearview mirror of her car.

Ian popped back up and returned her keys. Michelle unlocked the door and freed her skirt. She was horrified to discover that it was badly stained with grease.

“Oh no!” she moaned, examining the damage.

“You can’t go in there like that,” Ian said sympathetically. “Guess you better take it off.”

“Ha, ha,” she said and shot him a nasty look. But her heart was doing the Macarena.

Just then Tammy Billings bustled up. “There you are Pastor Michelle.”

On the word “pastor” Ian glanced at her sharply. Michelle knew what that glance meant. The disheveled-in-a-sexy-way young man would not be asking for her phone number.

Tammy gave Ian the once over. “Who’s this?” she asked.

“Ian Wells,” he said, offering her his injured hand and grimacing again when she took it.

“He was helping me out of a little… predicament,” Michelle explained.

“Oh,” Tammy said. “Well, we’d better get in there. Everyone’s waiting for you. Mr. Wells, it was nice to meet you. We’d love to see you at church on Sunday.”

“Pleasure meeting both of you,” Ian replied.

“Thanks for your help,” Michelle said. She followed Tammy into the hospital with one last glance back at Ian, whom she assumed she’d never see again except perhaps for an awkward chance encounter in a coffee shop. She would soon be proven wrong… though not about the awkward part.

To be continued…