Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Changing the Lights

on April 6, 2014

“Do you want to help with the lights?”

That was the cryptic question posed to Jeremy this morning while we stood around in the parish hall after liturgy. He just had to ask, “What does that mean?” One young parishioner explained that it’s a tradition at Holy Ghost. Two times a year, right before Christmas and right before Easter, all the men of the parish go up to the church after coffee and climb up on a huge ladder to replace the burned out light bulbs. This young parishioner also explained that it’s kind of a rite of passage for young guys, the first time a guy gets invited to help with the lights is a Big Deal.

100_2079100_2081So Jeremy, of course, agreed to help. After all the men left, the ladies were explaining to me what all is involved in changing the lights. First of all the ladder is enormous. “How tall is the ladder?” I asked. “…uh,” each lady said. “…it’s really tall.” At least as tall as the inside of the church, however tall that is. Second, the ladder is really old, and really heavy. It takes every man in the building to help with that thing. How many church guys does it take to change a lightbulb? They all take off their suit jackets and drape the coats on church pews. Then they troop over to the rectory garage and get organized to lift the ladder down off the wall pegs, carry it over to the church, and very carefully raise it upright. They have to be very organized and focused. A mistake could send the ladder toppling down to crush guys, the icon screen, and anything else in its path. Then they position the ladder under the first burned-out light, and Michael climbs up 30, 40, 80 feet in the air. Who knows? It’s just really high. Michael stuffs the large, fragile bulbs in his shirt and climbs up while all the other guys hold the ladder steady. While Michael is at the top of the ladder stretched out to reach the light, the church is silent. All the guys stop chatting and just watch Michael switch the bulb. You can hear the scratching of the threads as Michael unscrews the bulb. He changes the bulb then climbs down, breaking the elbow brackets as he descends so the guys can fold up the ladder and move it to the next position. The guys start talking again. I asked Michael if he’s the only one who climbs the ladder and he laughed and said, “I’m taking volunteers!”

After all the burned-out bulbs were replaced and the guys had very carefully lifted the 90-foot ladder back onto its wall brackets in the garage, I told Jeremy that I think this tradition is really cool. He sat there in the car picking ladder splinters out of his dressy pants and said, “I guess so,” in a not-very-enthusiastic voice. Well, at least the pants aren’t his favorite anyway! Now we have an excuse to go shopping.

This tradition is cool because it’s unique to Holy Ghost parish and it’s part of the folklore of this community. It’s a duty the men perform ritually and at specific times of year. All the guys know about it and all the guys know how to do it. Jeremy and I, as new parishioners, had to learn about this tradition. It’s a mystery that belongs this parish. One of the ladies told me they should just get a new aluminum ladder to make the whole job easier, but the 150-foot-tall ladder is part of the story. No one needs to know how tall it is; the vagueness of the ladder’s height is part of the story. No one needs to know how old it is. This ladder has been used for this job as long as anyone can remember and that’s part of the story. There is one guy who climbs the ladder, and that’s part of the story. What if he doesn’t come to church on the weekend they want to change the lights? I don’t know. Perish the thought. I guess they would just do the lights the following week! It’s a rite of passage for young male parishioners and that’s part of the story. It’s wrapped up in the spirituality of Advent and Lent, preparing for the two high points of the liturgical year. It’s important for the holy days, yet not obvious like setting up the Christmas tree or arranging the potted lilies.

Modernizing the procedure would probably make the job easier. Aluminum ladder. Longer-lasting light bulbs. But the ritual surrounding the activity of changing the lights is important, and I think it is a blessing for the life of Holy Ghost parish.

Advertisements

4 responses to “Changing the Lights

  1. Kathy Schwager says:

    I notice that the length of the ladder grows as your story goes on! 30, 40, 80, 90, 150 feet? An interesting piece of writing, Judy. Good job!

  2. The Redmond's says:

    Thank you for sharing. Have a Blessed Easter!

  3. JeneaSwainston says:

    What a great read! You have quite a gift for writing! I’m glad Jeremy survived the rites of passage at this church!

  4. David Schwager says:

    Thank you Judy, that was well-written.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: