Of pageants, pucks and prayers

Two hockey sticks-a Victoriaville Superhook and a Koho Junior-did double duty as the shepherds’ staffs.

Our Sunday school director was fierce and determined. The classic Christmas story pageant would be the best ever, the artistic highlight of the year.  Enough cute little four-year-olds wearing floppy halos, a cast of at least 16 with no one over age nine, and you’ve got a sure-fire, can’t-miss hit.  Our little Anglican church had all the elements in place. Including three attention-challenged eight-year-old altar boys.

One-or three-small problems. Two of the three altar boys, who had scored major roles as shepherds, were also playing the all-important starting defence for the Richmond Kings, a house league hockey team. Our Joseph-a tiny, angelic John Denver lookalike, complete with Coke bottle glasses-also had another pivotal role to play. He was the Kings’ top line centre.

The Kings weren’t exactly what you’d call a powerhouse. But a big game was scheduled for home ice at exactly the same time as our full- dress rehearsal for the Christmas pageant.

As both a vestry member and coach of the Kings, I found myself between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, I was respectful of the Sunday school director, who was adamant and vocal. Very vocal. The three players had to be at the dress rehearsal. After all, as seven- and eight-year-old altar boys, they had scored major roles. The shepherds needed the rehearsal, the director pointed out, since they sometimes behaved like hockey players even when they were carrying out their duties as altar boys.

On the other hand, I knew that without our starting centre and the top two defencemen, the mighty Kings were doomed to fall even further in the standings. And beside, our little church was right across the street from the Richmond Kings’ home ice in south Winnipeg.

Finally, an uneasy compromise was reached. The rehearsal would start half an hour early.

With no church hall, the pageant’s venue was the church itself, and the altar the stage. Parents packed the pews for the rehearsal.  

The angels were adorable. All the cast was in costume. Of some kind. Sort of.

The two shepherds and Joseph were in full hockey gear. Minus skates. One shepherd wore his helmet. Two hockey sticks-a Victoriaville Superhook and a Koho Junior-did double duty as the shepherds’ staffs.

The attention issues were somewhat more noticeable than usual.  Go figure.

At the rear, three fathers each clutched a small pair of hockey skates and eyeballed their watches closely, making occasional “hurry up” hand motions, much to the annoyance of the director. Our kindly rector had his fingers crossed throughout, his lips moving silently in prayer, a look of disbelief on his face.

The rehearsal ended abruptly five minutes before the puck dropped.  

In the vestibule, small feet were quickly stuffed into skates, and the boys, tucked under their respective father’s arms, were hurriedly trundled across Silverstone Ave. to home ice.  I trotted behind.

As we crossed, Joseph looked out at me from underneath his father’s elbow, and asked, “Hey, Coach! Who gets to start the bench clearing brawl tonight?”

Anglicans are tough.

All agreed the pageant the following night was a roaring success. But the rehearsal might have been more memorable.

Joseph scored the winning goal and the Kings won their game.
Maybe hockey really is part of Canada’s religious fabric.   

Wayne Smith recently moved from Winnipeg to Calgary, where he plans to become a parishioner at St. Benedict’s Anglican Church.

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