There is a black and white sketch hanging on the paneled wall in Old Cal’s organ loft. It shows the inside of a church, row upon row of pews, with a solitary man holding Common Praise and singing his heart out.
I admired the detail and asked Old Cal where he picked it up. He admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that he had done that sketch based on an experience a few months earlier.
He said he came home one evening after a day “on the town” – a trip to a nearby Tim Horton’s where he spent two hours nurturing a coffee and an apple fritter while reading the paper.
As he entered a back entrance to the parish hall he heard the organ playing so he assumed that John, the music director, was going over his contribution for Sunday’s service. Then he heard what appeared to be a man singing. The sound seemed to bounce off the stone walls in some sort of acoustical dance with the organ. He noticed the man in the pew, all by himself, fully engaged in his singing.
“That man is a symbol of all that is right – and wrong – with the Anglican church,” Cal said as he walked over to the sketch to admire it, as if for the first time. I sat down in his guest chair, a well-worn La-z-Boy. His chair was more modest, with a firm wooden back and covered in an afghan.
“Tradition, my boy,” he said. “It’s both the saviour and the downfall of Anglicanism.”
He told me that he talked to that gentleman; caught up with him as he left the church. “The man thought it was Sunday morning,” Cal chuckled. He came to church, sat in his usual spot, and it didn’t seem strange to him that there weren’t any other people around. “As long as he heard the organ, he knew he was in the right place.”
Old Cal said that Anglicans – at least, long-time ones – are creatures of habit. “They come to church out of custom and superstition. It’s as traditional as afternoon tea; which reminds me …” he said. It was indeed 3 p.m. I nodded and he put on the kettle.
Old Cal wondered out loud about how many Anglican churches there are across the country which simply maintain their buildings for those one or two or 20 who regularly and faithfully come out every Sunday.
With tea cup in hand, he sat down, stroked his beard, and said: “A church building without people is a tomb.” He then launched into a soliloquy about The Great Commission.
Keith Knight is interim editor of the Anglican Journal.