Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And That's When I Set Myself on Fire...Part 2

Last year's Advent Wreath "event" caused our Worship Committee to reconsider the whole idea of hanging the wreaths from the ceilings... (Gee...I wonder why...?) So, we decided to get a contemporary "wreath" for the chapel (square and rectangular wood and metal candle stands with cube-shaped candles...really elegant). And, as for the sanctuary, we decided to use the large iron "wagon wheel" -- at least that is what the Fine Arts Committee chairperson calls it.

Really, the "wagon wheel" is a pretty fitting name for it. It is a 36-inch in diameter circle of iron, supported with 4 "spokes" -- all perched securely on a large metal stand, tilted ever so slightly so you can see everything. Attached to the spokes are 5 pillar candle holders (iron bases with metal spikes to hold the candles in place) -- one in the middle (for the Christ Candle) and 4 placed near the inside rim of the wreath frame. It looks a bit like a medieval torture device without any of the greenery attached.

So, with the help of some of the Fine Arts ladies and the church's Administrative Assistant, we wrapped garland around the cold metal frame. In no time, it started to actually look like an Advent Wreath. We put our backs into it and hauled it into the sanctuary, and we arranged it in front of the pulpit. Then one of the ladies asked, "Ok, so, where are the candles?"

Good question. We must have turned the church inside out. Could we find any royal blue candles? No. Could we even find any purple ones? No. It was November 30th. The first Sunday of Advent was December 2nd. Too late to call Cokesbury...

"Oh, we usually just get them at Wal Mart," one of the ladies remarked. No problem! Wal Mart will save us, we thought.

Apparently...not so much. No blue candles at Wal Mart. No purple ones, either. Thus began my trek to find Advent Candles. I checked Wal Mart, K Mart, Farm King, Walgreens, CVS, HyVee... I called the Target store in a nearby town... No one had blue pillar candles. No one had purple candles, either.

Finally...I went to the only store I had left on my list -- a trendy gift and floral shop about a block away from the church. Did they have blue candles? Yes!!! They had 4 -- only 4 -- left in the entire store! Praise God! Four beautiful royal blue pillar candles covered in shimmering glitter (which, as it turns out, goes quite nicely with our Advent paraments in the sanctuary). They even had a white candle that was the same style that we could use for the Christ Candle!

Approximately $50 later, I was back in the sanctuary. Carefully, I unwrapped the first candle... only to find that the glittery candle wanted to share its shimmery love with everything it came in contact with. So, I took a piece of the tissue paper that the store owner had used in the bag and folded it around the glitter-shedding candle, thus avoiding (for the moment) getting glitter all over my hands.

Now, anyone who has ever tried to place a pillar candle on one of those candle spikes knows that you can't just go jamming the candle on those things unless you want the candle to crack. So, I took one of those lighter wands and used it to heat up the spike. Then, I could gently lower the candle onto the base, letting the hot spike melt the wax, etc... The problem was, it was hard to see the bottom of the candle -- and you had to be sure that the candle was going on straight and in the center of the holder...

After heating up the spike, I tried to lower the first candle onto the base. I quickly realized that I couldn't see the bottom of the candle due to the lighting in the sanctuary. So, I fired-up the lighter for a second to shed some light on the underside of the candle -- just enough to see where the candle was relative to the spike.

And that's when I set myself on fire...

Apparently there is a very good reason why you aren't supposed to have tissue paper near an open flame. The flash from the lighter -- despite its being several inches away from the tissue paper I was using to hold the glittery candle -- was just enough to ignite it. And, boy does that stuff burn! As I was trying to lower the candle onto the candle holder spike, I suddenly realized that the tissue paper had been set ablaze... the tissue paper that was under and around my hand! I don't think that this is what is meant by "being on fire for God."

And as I huffed and puffed and blew out the flames, the main thing that was going through my mind was, "I can't drop the candle! I can't drop the candle! If it breaks, we'll be without Advent candles again, and there aren't any blue candles in the whole state!"

To make a long story slightly shorter, I put out the fire, the candle was okay, and I finally got everything put together. Sure, I had about 20 pounds of glitter on my hands, but I wasn't going up in flames anymore. I couldn't help laughing when the Administrative Assistant came in to see how things were going, and she asked me, "Do I smell something burning...?"

Monday, December 3, 2007

And That's When I Set Myself on Fire... Part 1

Advent has arrived, and Christmas is right around the corner. So, as a Presbyterian, that means that is it time to get out the Advent Wreath for use in the sanctuary. I would have never guessed that there could be so much drama surrounding the Advent Wreath! But, in the last 2 years, I have discovered that -- if you're lucky -- there can be interesting adventures to be had when it comes to the setting up and lighting of the Advent Wreath.

Let's begin with what happened last year. At the church I am currently serving, it had been the tradition in the last several years to hang the Advent Wreaths from the ceiling. Notice that I said "had". In the chapel, the wreath was suspended above the communion table. In the sanctuary, the wreath was suspended above and slightly in front of the lectern. These wreaths were over 36 inches in diameter with a clear plastic "bottom" that was used to support the candles. The candles...ah, the candles...were 6 inch tall pillar candles that were placed inside of clear glass goblets.

If you are wondering how the glass goblets were secured to the wreath or the plastic base...don't. They weren't secured in any way...

Imagine, if you will, the 2nd Sunday of Advent last year. You are seated in the chapel. All is calm. All is bright. As the lector reads some verses of scripture and a few notes about the lighting of the 2nd candle, a gentleman with a long acolyte taper comes in to light the Advent Candles. He reaches, and strains, and even stands on his tip-toes...trying to see the wick that he is supposed to light. Seeing his plight, one of the ushers decides to help... by tipping the Advent Wreath downward so that he can see the candle wicks.

And that's when it all came crashing down.

Glass goblets and pillar candles came cascading down from their perch above the communion table. And mingled with the gasps and cries of the parishioners were the sounds of candles breaking and glass shattering...

After a few moments of stunned silence, we gathered up the broken pieces of hope, peace, love, and joy. We placed some votive candles on the communion table, and we continued with the service by reading the prayer printed in our bulletins. And, if there was any doubt in our minds that God has a sense of humor, that was quickly dispelled... for the prayer included these words:

"And when we get caught up in all of the anxiety and chaos that this season can sometimes bring, remind us that you are Lord of all."