The Memoirist
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The Memoirist

A Strange Book Brought Me to the Door of a Church

Thanks be to God for divine accidents

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Every morning upon waking, I reach for the light blue and silver mantilla I have by the chair I sleep in, groggily put it on my head, and then reach for my Book of Common Prayer. It automatically falls open to page 302, which are the words used in the baptismal covenant, and I renew my vows.

Pages 302–305 are well worn. Fingerprint marks have turned into yellowish stains that run into each other. The gold gilding has worn off the edges of the pages. It’s obvious where my tears have fallen, and the pages are wearing thin.

I am almost certain I could say them by memory if I needed to, but the book is something tangible that I can hold. It’s part of the prayers, that sensory act of holding the book and reading the words from its familiar pages.

My Book of Common Prayer is large print, and it was given to me as a gift. It smells delightful (yes, I am one of those people who loves the smell of books); and it has six ribbon markers: gold, red, black, green, purple, and white, none of which mark the baptismal promises because I know exactly where those are.

The gold ribbon marks the start of Holy Eucharist, Rite II, found on page 355. That’s the liturgy of the Church, the beautiful words prayed in the mass.

Red indicates page 75, Daily Morning Prayer: Rite Two which are the prayers in contemporary language.

The black ribbon holds the place for Daily Evening Prayer: Rite Two on page 115.

An Order for Compline on page 127 has the green ribbon marker. Compline is a series of prayers for bedtime.

The purple ribbon is on page 447, The Reconciliation of a Penitent, Form One. There are two forms of prayer for confession, and sometimes I use Form One, and sometimes Form Two, it depends on the contents of the confession. I prepare my confessions with care, and so the ribbon holds the space for me to read the words.

Page 585 is where the white ribbon resides. The Psalter, the top of the page says, revealing the beginning of its content.

One day, before I ever walked into the doors of an Episcopal Church, I came upon the Book of Common Prayer quite by accident. I had been looking for a book with prayers in it that I could learn and teach to my children. I needed some that we could commit to memory and recite together.

I was browsing Amazon, and I just happened to see a book titled The Book of Common Prayer. It sounded lovely, and so I ordered it. I found a copy that was pretty cheap. When it arrived in my mailbox, I excitedly tore open the package. I opened the book, and saw, printed inside the cover:

The Book of Common Prayer
and Administration of the Sacraments
and Other Rites
and Ceremonies of the Church
Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David
According to the use of
The Episcopal Church
Church Publishing Incorporated, New York.

To say I was greatly disappointed was an understatement. I didn’t know what a sacrament was, and I surely didn’t give a damn what that church with the ridiculous name said about anything.

I unceremoniously dumped the book on the table by my recliner, with the intention of returning it right back from whence it came. The book remained there for a week or more, untouched.

On yet another night of being woken up for the day at 3:00 AM by a disabled little boy who hardly ever slept and needed constant supervision, I picked the book up. My son was curled up in my lap, one of those rare moments he was calm. His head, with beautiful long, blonde ringlets, was against my chest, and his knees pulled up to my stomach.

I was wide awake, but bored. There was apparently nothing of interest to me scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It seemed that normal people were sleeping at 3 AM. Hmm. Fancy that!

I flipped through the book, bored. The more pages I turned, the more beauty I saw in the book. I didn’t even know what a liturgy was, but I knew beautiful, meaningful prayers when I saw them.

How does a church with such a stupid name have prayers that speak to me this deeply? I thought (sorry, fellow Episcopalians, that IS what I thought about the name at the time).

Univited tears began to flow down my hardened face. The words spoke to me in my exhaustion.

My next coherent thought was I must find this church!

I remembered that I had seen an Episcopal Church and knew where it was located. It was directly across the street from my ex-husband’s house. He shared the house with several other single men and likely their girlfriends. My friends and I jokingly referred to this house as “the frat house,” and that was probably a pretty accurate description.

One day, I had the misfortune of having to go by this place, but I figured it was worth it as he had promised me some money for the kids if I would come by and pick it up.

I drove over there in my minivan that worked about as often as it didn’t, excited that he was finally going to fork over some money for the kids. They were hungry and grumpy and I was on my way home from church, one of the large Southern Baptist ones that make me just cringe now.

When I arrived, I got out of the van and knocked on the front door. There was no answer. I knocked on the front door again. Still no answer. I called his phone. No answer. I called his phone again. No answer.

His car was there, which meant he was most likely there, but probably asleep. After more than twenty minutes of this stupid game, he emerged from the house in his robe. He walked out to the van to see the kids, and casually handed me a twenty.

“Are you fucking serious?” I said. “I came all this way over here with grumpy kids last minute, because you said you could give me some money for them, and all you hand me is a mother fucking twenty? What am I supposed to do with that, buy them a fucking happy meal?”

He shrugged and indicated that it was my problem.

The priest came strolling across the street like he was on a mission. He best not try to convert me to whatever crazy shit he believes, I thought to myself.

I glared daggers at the man.

“Why don’t you fuck off and mind your own fucking business, can’t you see I’m having an argument?” He held up his hands in mock surrender and turned to leave.

“What the fuck do you want, anyway,” I asked him.

“I just wanted to know if Stevie still lived here. I have a document for her and this is her last known address,” the priest said.

“Give it to him,” I said, pointing at my ex-husband. “He lives here, he can pass it on.” The priest handed the envelope to him, and carefully backed away, back across the street.

I should have called the next day to apologize, but I never did. I was embarrassed, and I figured I’d never see him again. I never guessed that one day, he would be my priest.

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MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

MaryClare StFrancis, M.A.

341 Followers

She/her. I write memoirs, feature articles, essays, poetry, and more.