'How high you need to get into church?'

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(Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash)

I pulled into the church parking lot and was relieved to see quite a few cars. This boded well for me getting into church early, I thought. Mass was at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and my plan was to get there by 3 p.m. to get music organized and practice on the organ.

My only trepidation about the entire afternoon was getting into church. The neighborhood was on the rougher side, so door security was an everyday reality. The doors were rarely open.

The pastoral associate who had met with me in the church a week before was very detailed and patient and made it a point to show me where the lock box was that contained the door keys. Having the combination to the lock box made it a cinch to get into church at any time, though there were multiple steps:

Step 1: Open the lock box and get the door key.
Step 2: Go unlock the church door.
Step 3: Take the key back to the lock box and secure it.
Step 4: Go back to the church door, enter, then lock the deadbolt behind you.
Step 5: Make sure no one is lurking in the vicinity to get into the church when you weren't looking.

On the drive there, I was thinking that if by some chance, the church door was open when I arrived, everything would be so simple. So when I saw all the cars in the parking lot, I was elated at the prospect of church being open.

I grabbed my shoulder bag of music for the Mass and walked toward the church. All the activity, however, seemed to be in the hall in the church basement. I headed there first.

As I entered the hall, delicious aromas wafted around me. There were several folks setting up the hall for a Hispanic event that evening, and the wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen area, where Mexican foods were being prepared.

A fellow was sweeping the floor near the door I entered, so I asked him if there was a stairway up to church. Realizing he didn't speak much English, I repeated this slowly and punctuated it with gestures. He shrugged his shoulders but called out to another fellow, who came over and listened. He said, "Yes. Come with me."

I followed the young man to a back room filled with seasonal decorations, folding chairs, supplies, and other stuff. There, another young Hispanic man was working in the room, so the two spoke in Spanish. All I understood was the word iglesia, which I knew meant church.

The fellow from the back room nodded his head, grabbed a ladder resting against the wall, brought it over to me and said, "How high you need to get into church?"

I told the helper I didn't need a ladder, but instead was looking for a stairway up to the church. Quickly figuring there was no way to get from the hall up into the church, I said I would just go outdoors and around to the church door. My helper fellow nodded and said apologetically, "I'm just here for tonight's event, and I'm from another parish. I don't know much about this building."

I thanked them both, went around to the door of church, which opened easily by now, and I instantly met up with the Mass celebrant. I was now inside the church. Situation solved!

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]