I left church early a handful of times. I figure I've attended tens of thousands of church services averaging at least two a week each year for 40 plus years. Most early departures were unpleasant. One was pure joy.
The building was designed in the 60's with dark green carpet and a dark wood stained frame ceiling. This was a winter’s Wednesday prayer meeting. The room was designed to hold 700 but tonight at most it was peppered lightly. A small contingent of adolescents lined a pew near the back.
I sat next to my best friend Andy Allison, talking under our breath about model making and school while Dr. Daley recited a long list of this weeks prayer concerns. Dr. Daley asked Mr. Collins to say the prayer and for the congregation to stand.
Mr. Collins was a small, friendly man and charter member of the church. I am sure at that time he was retired, or maybe I thought he was just way old. Either way he was probably stirred awake that night to lead us all in prayer.
Mr. Collins spoke with a high pitched singsongy rhythm, and very softly. No matter if you’re evangelical or sacramental, cleric or laity, people found patterns to stick with. This one started “Our dear heavenly father we come to you for our special needs on this night submitting ourselves to your grace and wisdom…” and on and on. Introductory stuff. Establishing a mood, plot and theme. Or so I supposed because the waves of pitch and mumblings became quickly inaudible from across the room. I actually doubt the people next to him heard each word clearly as the volume traversed in and out as well.
Needless to say insomnia was cured. Our teenaged selves fidgeted, whispered and snickered at nothing. That is until Dougie fell asleep.
Harold was 17 and standing with the rest of us. Dougie was five. They sat directly in front of Andy and myself: Harold, Dougie to his right and their mother. A five year old was allowed by the unwritten rules to remain seated during congregational stands. These kids often drew pictures with the registration pencils on the prayer list. Some would repeatedly tug on mom’s skirt asking “when will this be over”. Dougie slept. And in doing so he fell sideways onto the pew. To his left. Right under his 200 pound brother.
Almost immediately Andy and I wondered (out loud) if Harold was going to sit on his brother. The suspense of it was overwhelming. We would pinch our faces in our fists holding back the spasms. The torture of it was the long prayer. Collins-ian prayers were always long. Add to that the long list and the special nature of a “prayer” meeting.
In order to placate the laughter Andy and I convinced ourselves it wouldn’t actually happen. We were also supposed to have our eyes closed.
Mr. Collin's voice lifted and fell in the tale-tell sing song of a closing “In Jesus’ name we pray (pause) amen. “Ehhhh”, cried Dougie! It happened.
Andy and I fast-walked right up the aisle, out the door. Sprinted down the hall to the dining hall with uncontrolled laughter. Pure and tearful belly laughter.