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The Drop-Out Drops In

"The hymns were familiar, plain Protestant pasta with butter."

Published onApr 21, 2024
The Drop-Out Drops In

Photo by Chris Tan:

I wonder if they write stories at the Church of God’s Love. How do they remember the hobos who rode along?

It’s hard to scrape up a paragraph for the tumbleweed. The person who visits once, scarcely denting the pew, is a mystery. Perhaps his church was closed for stinkbug removal. He may be a grad student taking notes without taking this to heart. He is gone before the greeting committee can extend the hand of fellowship. His Welcome Basket sits forlorn in the narthex.

The tale plumps up with paragraphs for one who shows up twice. Is she brand spanking pregnant, auditioning Sunday schools? Has she lost someone she needed or found an old scrap in her own handwriting? Did she read the ad in the paper – could it have been worth the $250? – and felt her heart expand at the line we will love you with all the love we have to give? Deacon Gloria wrote that. Maybe it wasn’t too effusive after all, even for Lutherans?

Story sweeps the plain after a third appearance. This person sings. This person accepts bread. Is this person ours to love? Has this person been sent for such a time as this? Did this person have a pyrotechnic falling-out with the Presbyterians? Is this person’s grandmother dancing in her celestial dirndl today, prayers answered?

Deacon Gloria asks for a name. Pastor Matt sandwiches hands and squeezes lightly. Little Howard leaps into action like Zacchaeus shimmying down the sycamore. The third Sunday merits a Welcome Basket. “I’m Howard. They call me Little Howard. We are happy you’re here.”

My Welcome Basket sits between my winter blankets and my seminary notebooks. I sang at the Church of God’s Love six times, long enough that gardenia-scented Joyce hugged me, and Little Howard asked me to pray for his nephew. Pastor Matt remembered my name.

They asked if I was new to the area. I didn’t know the correct answer, but I knew an answer: “Just looking for a church home.”

They asked what I did for a living. I gave a stuffing-cube rather than tearing a hunk from the loaf. “I write PR for a nonprofit.” I have told too many church people too much about my real calling. I write stories for a cacophonous cat sanctuary, attempting to say what I mean between feral tales. My parables are problematic.

They did not ask if I was married or mothering, which is why I returned six times. I convinced myself Little Howard dashed a glimpse at my left hand, but that is probably in my own heretical head. “I am fresh from the oven of divorce,” I could have told them. “Barring a major theological incident, I am not going to have children. I am decontaminating. I am reanimating. I am acquainted with resurrection."

They did not indicate any interest in saving me, which almost got me there a seventh time. Other than one uncareful comment after a sermon – “you know the meaning of ‘liminal’?” Pastor Matt was properly curious – I did not blow my cover. “I have a Master of Divinity,” I could have told them. “I get a twitch in my eyebrow every time I hear the name of my degree. I get the heebie jeebies from every church, no matter how many times I vaccinate myself against them. I get ragged with Jesus every day. I get confused when I remember I once intended to be a pastor.”

They did not commend my handle on hymnody, which kept me singing freely. The hymns were familiar, plain Protestant pasta with butter. Little Howard did not look over when I choked on the creed – are we debtors, trespassers, or sinners here? “I have survived the denominational derby,” I could have told him. “I am ecclesiastical minestrone. I am rewriting Johnny Cash’s ‘Everywhere Man:’ ‘I’ve been Reformed, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, American-NOT-SOUTHERN Baptist, catastrophically Catholic, Presbycostal, Quaker-curious, and hungry.”

They do not know what became of me, and I don’t presume they wonder for long. But Jesus people are incurable storytellers, and I wonder if I left wires dangling, pesto spaghetti with a bite.

If they happened to catch a plot, I hope I’ll run into them at Giant so they can give me a hint.

I gave my work friends all the chocolate from my Welcome Basket. They are crystal wielders and wanderers and “whatevers,” spending their Sundays tube-feeding dying kittens. They are proof of an empty hell. They are ferociously fond of this Jesus freak. They are some of Jesus’ favorite people and mine. They are scowling beatitudes on two legs.

I pick up my “God’s Love” mug and wonder why I can’t get my cup filled between the Call to Worship and the Benediction. My best memories are soundtracked to hymns and holy days. I know I was called to seminary, even if some muscled Vin Diesel seraph tackled me out of the pulpit, jammed me in a cat carrier, and laughed as he dropped me off at a different sanctuary.

I lay in my queen-sized bed between long-haired cats on Sunday mornings, writing stories rather than sermons in my pajamas. I worry that I absolve my laziness simply because I am loved. I make sure there is still plenty of papyrus. I try not to tip over the inkwell. I could say so much.

Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and The Westchester Review, among others. She is a 2023 Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

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