This story is by Heather Green and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Expected, audible gasps rippled throughout the church: “… back to our roots – HELP THE POOR, SICK, HOMELESS, VULNERABLE. Let’s remove our masks, reveal our true Christian selves.” Taken literally, my words contravened distancing policy. From the pulpit, I saw raised eyebrows and eyes widened; others wrinkled their noses and creased their foreheads, their eyebrows cocked upstairs and downstairs.
Bless her heart, ancient Mrs. Goodwill gingerly steadied herself with her cane. Congregants followed suit, standing and removing their masks. Impeccably dressed with brightly-coloured accessories while exuding an authoritative air, no one tangled with Mrs. Goodwill.
I chortled. How gratifying to see the church coming together after months of pandemic closure. “Welcome those around you.”
Pause … glances around. Exasperated, Mrs. Goodwill yelled: “Oh for goodness sake, COVID BE DAMNED. WE ARE A CHRISTIAN FAMILY, separated for months with only faceless contact. Anyone want a hug? I know I do.”
Discomfiture before laughter erupted: a hug-fest lineup for Mrs. Goodwill. A stalwart church member, Mrs. Goodwill garnered responses faster than me, the barely-arrived wet-behind-the-ears pastor.
‘Oh dear, I mused, I didn’t think congregants craving physical contact would react so. I pray no one tests COVID-positive after this service. Lord, forgive me.
I concluded by announcing. “This virus has impaired traditional communication and how we treat each other. Let’s take our world back. If healthy, I expect you here Saturday to plan community Sunshine Day. Nothing is as important as serving our Lord’s people. In closing, let’s sing, Are We Sowing the Seeds of Kindness?
Congregants were oddly silent during the hymn. I sang alone, transported back to performing for 1000 as an oft-featured stand-up comedian and theatre actor in Buenos Aires. Applause. Exhilarating acclamation.
The church was abuzz. Painted black, the church side was graffitied with “Everyone wears a mask” in white across the top.
‘Outraged parishioners: “Who vandalized our church? It’s ONE OF US who heard YOUR sermon! Or someone else who heard the online broadcast?” I nodded in agreement.’
The Building Committee Director, Bob Carpenter, welcomed everyone with a broad smile. “Our defaced church will be revitalized with a mural showcasing our local seeds of kindness. An unprecedented lockdown decimated community spirit. It’ll take some work to rebuild. Here is Pastor Milagro Vicario.”
“Let’s reflect on second Corinthians, chapter 9: ‘… whoever sows generously will also reap generously…. bless you abundantly … at all times … will abound in every good work.’
“As Christians, we should emulate Jesus’ life of service, sacrifice and fulfillment. ‘Be like a watered garden, … whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11).’”
Animated group discussions reverberated: voices vying to be heard. Parishioners dreamed big as if FINANCES AND RESOURCES WERE LIMITLESS.
Mrs. Goodwill and an army of cutters, sewers and artistic types fashioned zillions of neutral-coloured masks for the icebreaker and for the public to take home.
“Let’s ensure that the public can solve the matches. I’ll demonstrate the first pairing. Wallflowers mean ‘faithfulness in adversity’; matches with the prayer breakfast for the frontline workers and COVID survivors/caregivers.
“Gladiolus and Rosemary represent ‘in remembrance’ so pair with community memorial.”
“Sunflowers mean adoration …”
“Great! If unfamiliar, the public can Google. Let’s make and decorate masks aplenty.”
Smiling at the group, “Great Bible verse choices about sowing seeds.”
“Mark 4:31-32 … ‘mustard seed. smaller than all … becomes greater than all’”
“Psalm 126:5 … ‘sow in tears … reap with joyful …’”
“Hosea 10:12 Sow with … righteousness, reap … with kindness…” Asking for suggestions of acts of kindness, a cacophony of responses barraged me.
Before the event, parishioners noticed that event flyers had been sullied to read: “We don’t want to be led down the garden path.” Originally, they read: “Become part of our watered garden.” Very unfortunate development. How many would attend now?
SUNSHINE DAY – LATE AUGUST
Proudly wearing their cheerful tie-dye seeds of kindness tee-shirts, the parishioners worshipped under the early morning sun. Mrs. Goodwill offered words of encouragement. Benediction hymn, “Like a Sunflower, That follows every movement of the Sun, So I turn towards you … My God ….” I prayed, blessing the event.
A few stayed behind at lunchtime. I escaped from the flurry into the peace of my office. Mrs. Goodwill, auxiliary ladies and Bob fussed.
Simpering, but efficient Mrs. Potts banged loudly. “Pastor, our gardens have been attacked. Our church defiled again!”
“Calm down, Mrs. Potts. What’s happened?”
“Before lunch, sun-people waving in the breeze amidst the summer’s scorching sun, a welcome to the Lord’s house; now, a shunning — snapped stalks, seeds and some blossoms missing.
Tearing up, “Pastor, hours we spent spiffing up the gardens. We have only three hours until the event starts. Despicable!”
“Please no tizzy. Bob, are there extra sunflowers we can transplant into the garden?”
Matter-of-fact, rotund gourmand Bob remarked, “it’s probably just squirrels or birds stockpiling for winter. Don’t worry, we’ll beautify with more sunflowers.”
Sunflowers welcomed everyone to the Lord’s house.
People soon milled under sunflower banners and around event-schedule placards. Upon registration, guests donned brightly-coloured tees and mingled to make a match. Mrs. Goodwill’s creative icebreaker forced everyone to consider community kindness projects. Locals joined fund-raising groups for a front-liners/caregivers’ gratitude cruise; singles-mingle-tingle nights; and a new community-kitchen-garden centre. Consternation over poor attendance unfounded.
Odd, during band breaks, I thought the mix tape interlude played traditional hymns and modern gospel. Instead I heard strains of the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn!; Bette Midler’s From a Distance; Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence …
Amid the sunflower-themed barbecue, excited voices filled the grounds. Removing seeds from bun tops had customized them with smiles or question marks. Unplanned ingenuity, counter to public opinion. Again, strains of Jermaine Gordon’s Heal Our Land, a church choir’s rendition of All Things Bright and Beautiful followed by Elvis’ In the Garden accosted my ears. Who switched the music?
Music Director Melody Watts, raced up apoplectic. “Who switched my tape? Did you, Pastor? NOT the time for your theatrics!”
“Melody, look around, everyone happy, dancing about to appropriate, eclectic tunes. Time for changes. Don’t make trouble where there’s none.”
The mural’s depiction of acts of kindness inspired locals to express ideas. L-I-N-G-L-E (West Indian for ‘touch all over’) had been added in large block letters with artistic pictures of good deeds – … a senior’s groceries; … blind man; comforting a crying child; inviting the homeless … homecooked meal. The Trinidadian caretaker’s daughter, Sanaa, a renowned artist had been seen near the mural. Were Sanaa’s enhancements ridiculing governmental pandemic policies?
Off to the side, several youth and Bob manned the raffle prize table. Suddenly, a hullabaloo. A fully-masked man pontificated stridently about the lack of human kindness. “Masks don’t save anyone. No one cleans …hands and masks before and after each wearing. … afford to change your mask so often? Break rules or no new relationships. … apart … disguised as criminals or superheroes. Muffled speech … communicating impossible! Hard to read … mood with half their face covered. … safe you must wash hands, mask and stay apart. …”
Mrs. Goodwill yelled out: “You, speak the truth. Some seniors won’t come to church scared sick from ongoing bombardment from daily media and politicians. Lower church attendance. Many aren’t fastidious in mask-care or their wearing.”
These voiced fears resonated. A few left. Others moved apart.
“Always been masks … now visible.”
The crowd chants “True, can’t trust …”
To diffuse the outburst, a youth jumped the speaker and pulled off his face covering. Shrieks. Unmasked, there lay the previous conventional pastor on leave to recover from a meltdown when learning … preach exclusively online, church closed. In lockdown, he’d taken up painting.
Surprisingly, fusspot Mrs. Potts saved the event by reassuring everyone that they had masks on, sanitizer available and tables spread out.
Upon returning, they saw a gentleman take something from the prize table and chase after him in hot pursuit.
Finally, the youths caught up and interrogated the fugitive: “Whaddya take from our prize table?”
Perplexed, the dark-skinned man stammered. “Mi nuh andastan. Mi put yh’ello envopes on da table. “
“Hand over what you took from the table.”
Puffing and wheezing, Bob arrived on the scene.
The man continued, “Pliz, I’m nuhd a tief. Mi was makin’ sure dat’all de envopes were sealed proply as mi told to do.”
Bob demanded, “Who told you to do that?”
“Mi sarry, anonmous doner.”
Ticket # 120… Flummoxed, Mrs. Potts didn’t expect her number to come up. She received a gift bag with certificates for fancy restaurants and bookstore; movie passes, and a hand-painted sunflower shirt.
Ticket # 87… A single mother, baby in tow, got up. …
The caretaker rose, grinning from ear to ear after winning an all-expense trip within the country. Church members gasped: where did this prize come from? Double the original. The caretaker gave his prize to Mrs. Goodwill to visit her daughter. Yellow envelopes had mysteriously appeared.
A community member took Grand Prize — movie passes for a year, all-expenses trip for 4, ….
Comments from attendees declared the event a success.
“Clever – seeds of kindness tees with thought-provoking stickmen of all skin colours standing by a seed pile below a question mark. Sell them; finance projects. I’m up for the community errand-provider service.”
“Congratulations, … great event. Love the mask pairing … colourful action-oriented tee-shirts. … perfect-for-the-times tunes. Joined the entertainment-in-the-light committee.”
“Great mask-matching and tee-shirt question, ‘How will YOU sow a seed of kindness?’ … community spirit. I’m coming to your Communicating from a Distance workshop and Bible study.” …
As the public started leaving, the clothesline buckled under the weight of additional beautifully painted masks promoting smiles and hugs in addition to the Bible-verse-referenced acts of kindness. Some pointed out my theatrical background and Mrs. Goodwill’s career in fashion orchestrating runway shows: whispers behind our backs as if we were somehow involved. Was the ranting old painting pastor the culprit?
Everyone smiled when handed strikingly artistic take-home masks and potted sunflowers with butterfly pinwheels suggesting random acts of kindness. Would the community pay-it-forward?
I couldn’t believe my eyes: yellow envelopes stuck to our kind, unassuming caretaker’s shoes from washing kitchen floors after barbecue. Possible good Samaritan: he invested wisely in Facebook amassing a small fortune. I held my tongue.
Who engineered the sunflower and bun desecration? The music switch? Additional decorations including napkin holders/bracelets/ponytail elastics. Sunflower napkins embellished with hug doodles? Whomever responsible, positive results. Their interference, our hard work mimicked the feeding of the multitudes with inexplicably limitless loaves and fish. Limited resources miraculously multiplied.
The culprits craved human touch. Even the least of our church contributed. When the least participate fully, we are greatest. Less paranoid, a more nurturing world as God intended. God’s love conquers all fears. Follow the golden rule so no one gets hurt. Authentic smiles and churches are crucial in this colder new world. Human touch, kindness and the Word never go out of style.
As comedian, I ignited social consciences; as pastor, I must inspire ministry. The congregation came together beyond their comfort zones. Smirking: my mission complete.