Now blogging after 15 services (and fire engines)

I am sorry to have neglected you, dear readers. You see, blogging always takes a back seat to parish ministry. Somehow, I thought I’d have time to manage an entry here and there in the later days of Holy Week. Bah. It was all I could do to manage to eat and sleep among the 15 services that we carried off at Christ Church.

There were to be “only” 14 services, but then I had to officiate at a Burial Office on the morning of Holy Saturday. I finished off the Proper Liturgy of the Day, and then dashed off to the funeral home for this service. It was that kind of week.

We went from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a few minutes on Saturday night, during the Great Vigil. After much preparation, our vigil began right on time, everyone in their places. The new fire was kindled (in the back of the church). I had checked things earlier in the day, making a much larger version of the fire, just to make sure the fire wouldn’t set off the system designed to detect fires. All was well. The fire was brilliant. The Paschal Candle was blessed. We processed it to its place, led by a cloud of incense. The deacon began the Exsultet. It was a stunning moment. A dark church, with our sole illumination coming from our hand torches and from the still-burning fire in the rear of the church.

Then the beauty was shattered by the fire alarm.

After a panicked glance to make sure the fire wasn’t doing more than planned, I figured it must be the incense and the fire at the same time — hadn’t tested that. The deacon, not missing a beat, carried on with a beautful job singing. For six minutes or so, until the fire engines arrived.

I snuck to the entrance (Exsultet still in progress) and met the firemen. Yes, they were all men. The alarm was from…the sacristy. I had mentioned to the thurifer, making his debut, to stay away from the detector there. But I obviously hadn’t made this point strongly enough. So when he went out to wait for his next appearance at the font, he stayed inside. I don’t blame him, it was probably 30 degrees outside. Thurifer. Low ceilings. Smoke detector. A bad combination.

Anyway, the firemen shut off the alarm — leaving it on bypass until the service was over. The alarm ended just in time for me to introduce the readings from the Hebrew scriptures. They don’t teach you how to handle this stuff in seminary, but I think we did OK. I had warned the congregation before we started that the alarm could go off, and that we’d carry on, if possible. Our deacon and I were talking after the service. She wondered whether I had wanted her to continue or stop. My reply was that either way would have been the right answer. Her reason for continuing? “I had begun a prayer, and I didn’t think it was right to stop.” Imagine if all liturgy and prayer were taken so seriously.

When the Exsultet ended, and the alarm quieted, I told the congregation what had happened. We had some silence, and went on. The rest of the service went reasonably well, though I was jarred by the whole experience.

I felt bad about the experience of our guests. Perhaps 1/3 of the congregation were unknown to me. I love that! But I was worried about the impression that these guests might have had. On the way out, one couple said, “This was nothing! One time we went to an Easter Vigil and the Altar caught on fire. The priest had to extinguish it with Holy Water!” Made me feel better about our little adventure.

Note to self: figure out a way to solve this before the Day of Pentecost, our next incense occasion.

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2 Responses

  1. churches are generally entitled to a variance from the smoke-detector rules, and can use flame-detectors and other kinds of equipment in places where incense is in use.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Well, yes. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the source of smoke was directly under a smoke detector. Last time we used incense (which was the parish’s first time), there was no issue. I don’t expect it to be a problem next time.

    In Rhode Island, after the tragic fire at The Station nightclub, the fire marshalls have gone way over on the cautious end of the spectrum. Depending on the town one is in, it may not be permitted to use candles except in the nave/sanctuary. It’s likely the fonts will have to be moved out of aisles. So there’s certainly no avoiding smoke detectors.

    Pax,
    Scott

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