Among the Episcopalians

Not inexpensive tickets passed from one retired couple to another, and finally to us.  It is a benefit at St. John's Episcopal Church for its Grace Mission in Frenchtown, which has recently been written up in the newspaperHors d'oeurves and wine will be served.  We will be entertained by jazz vocalist Pam Laws, who will perform traditional black gospel hymns.

I grumble.  I don't care for gospel spirituals on the whole.  But I suck it up.  We know they'll put out a good spread.

What to wear?  St. John's, along with 1st Presbyterian and Trinity Methodist, is one of the elite, downtown, old guard Protestant churches in Tallahassee, some of whose families have plots in the Old City Cemetery.  On Sundays, I know, coats & ties are de rigueur.  But it was hot today.  I'll take my chances with a pressed, button-down, short-sleeved, buff linen shirt, with off-white slacks and tan loafers.

When we arrived at 7 p.m., the men were about evenly divided between shirts only and coats & ties, so I didn't feel under-dressed. The rector was in short sleeves with a clerical collar.  Around the periphery of the wood-paneled parish hall were tables with food and drink.  Tables reserved for large donors were grouped around the piano.  We who had single tickets got chairs lined up behind them.  Ronda noted that the wines were very drinkable.  I had chardonnay.

Episcopalians are masters in the art of hospitality.  One woman, in particular, was tremendously busy welcoming and orienting the guests.  Here was the food, there was the bar.  

The food was everything that we expected:  frenched, perfectly done lamb chops; shaved roast beef bruschetta with sauteed onions and feta; smoked salmon on rounds of French bread with creme fraiche, red onion and capers; plump marinated shrimp.  Roaming Episcopalians with trays plied us with various cheese balls;  mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes impaled on sprigs of rosemary, Gorgonzola and nuts, and with cheese and spinach pastry swirls.

The hospitality woman materialized again to tell us that there were tables outside in the courtyard between the hall and the church, where we could sit to eat.  An additional bar had been set up there as well.  She was unhappy that we "groundlings" had to juggle our plates of finger food and our napkins in our chairs.  "I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable", she fretted to me, bless her heart.  We stayed put, enjoying the people-watching.  Not many took up her offer of the outside tables.

We had positioned ourselves at the back, for an easy exit.  In the next rank behind us we discovered Sherry Rauch, who had written the piece in the paper about Grace Mission.  I stepped out for a smoke, and by the the time I returned, Sherry had moved up next to Ronda  to chat.  We had known Sherry back in the '70's.  Linda Cole, who used to volunteer at the reference desk, introduced me to her husband, and asked how the library was doing.

In the end, we stayed for the whole of Pam Laws's performance.  I had not known that she was a scholar.  Even the hymns that I dislike, Go Tell It On The Mountain, This Little Light of Mine, and Amazing Grace, were prefaced with interesting historical details.  I loved her rendition of Give Me Jesus:  "You can have all this world...".

I wish that she had done Oh Happy Day.  I remember hearing it on the car radio as a boy, my mother driving me home in Maitland on Highway 17-92.  I had probably had to stay late at school for band practice.  Was it Aretha, Mahalia?  I don't know.  [Edit:  It was neither.  See the link for the whole story.]  I leaned in to listen, as we passed the Steak and Ale, heading for Horatio Avenue to turn in to our subdivision, Dommerich Woods.  The singer was echoed by a choir of black voices.  I heard a joy that I longed to share.

Oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.

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