She had the sort of presence that could make a pastor stop dead in his tracks, even one who was about to make his way to the pulpit to give a much-anticipated sermon for the day.
The order of service typically remanded announcements to near the conclusion of worship in this local church on Sunday mornings. Security measures had not yet advanced to lock the front doors 10 minutes after services had begun. Her abrupt arrival with no advance warning caught everyone, especially the local cleric, off guard.
With conspicuous timing, and out of nowhere, the woman strode down the center aisle. Her assertive arrival preempted the well-thought out opening lines of the engaging homily. Before even a word, the unabashed intruder placed the service and the preacher at a standstill. Scour the printed liturgy in the hands of the congregants and no appropriate rubric would be found.
Having made her way well past the back row of chairs, worshipers began to catch a glimpse of the woman with their collectively shy peripheral vision. It requires little unplanned movements or sounds in a place of worship to distract even the most devout.
Within an instant, as the pastor stood motionless and silent at the lectern, the late-arriving lady blurted out for all to hear, “There’s a car in the parking lot with the lights on and the car is running.” Stunned by the news, the gathered worshipers morphed into the likes of an audience on “The Price Is Right,” eagerly awaiting who was going to be the next contestant to “come on down!” Of course, in this case, that meant standing up and meekly making their way to the church parking lot.
The anticipation grew as speculation occupied the minds of all. Worshipers had temporarily lost any focus and the air felt a bit like the conclusion of the game show, “To Tell the Truth,” with everyone waiting to see who would elevate and fess-up to the humorous faux pas.
As a gathering of well-trained Lutherans, members of a population endearingly described as the “frozen chosen,” not a soul was interested in drawing unnecessary attention to themselves, and consequently all remained glued to their seat.
With the sermon now on a quizzical “pause,” the preacher thought to himself, “Who in their right mind would leave their car running while in church?” His conclusion was obvious but at the same time no one dare admit to it. Any movement of the attendees was limited to the moderate swiveling of heads to glimpse the “guilty party!”
For a brief moment the pastor thought the woman had made a mistake, didn’t know what she was talking about, or she didn’t notice the FedEx driver dropping off a package in the church office. Then he remembered there are no Sunday deliveries.
What seemed longer than it was, after the stunned silence and the lack of any movement or acknowledgment, she added details to her awkward interruption. “It’s a Subaru! It’s a Subaru and it’s silver!” she reaffirmed. Finally, the reverend, not exactly thrilled by the injection into the liturgy, added redundant clarification with the utterance, “Does anyone here have a Subaru?” To his recollection, he knew of only one family in the congregation who did, but they were not in attendance that morning.
Somewhere along the line she offered a license plate number, but who pays attention to those details? Unrelenting in her appeal, no one was making even the slightest movement toward the door, let alone the parking lot.
With everything on hold, the pastor clarified, “Are you sure it was a Subaru?” “Yes,” came the reply with a bit of irritation, “it’s a Subaru!”
The silence became almost deafening. Then it happened. One precious senior member of the church cautiously asked for clarification. “Did you say that it was silver? I have a silver car, but it’s a RAV4, and so it’s a Toyota.” The circuitous dots were finally connected. Confirming the kind lady, she declared, “Yes, that must be yours because it is a RAV4?”
And so with a polite smile and some loving laughter, she arose to put a stop to her running Toyota RAV4, not to be confused, of course, with a Subaru.
Given the circumstances, the octogenarian could have kept the car running and headed for home, but she graciously rejoined her worshiping family of faith. The bad news? While out, she missed the newly formed opening to the pastor’s message. He recalled, while in his late-30s, how he took his visiting brother-in-law to play racquetball at a downtown Ottawa gym early one Thanksgiving holiday morning. When the final drops of sweat fell and the ball stopped bouncing, he went to grab his car keys which were nowhere to be found. “Must have left them in the van,” he thought? He had, and, as it turned out, they were in the ignition and the van had been running and going nowhere for the past hour and a half.
And about that woman who could silence the pastor and postpone his sermon? Turns out she was his wife who was thanked for the impromptu announcement and who later that day, during lunch, received a lesson on some subtle differences between a Toyota and a Subaru.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org