I made it through the first service at St. Paul's, and I still have my job. As someone said to me after the service, "Well, Father...one down, ten thousand to go!"
It was a little bit odd to do one's first official service on Ash Wednesday, but there was also some freedom in that. The Ash Wednesday service is a powerful liturgy in its own right, which takes a little bit of pressure off the "new guy." Priests have to go out of their way to mess up the Ash Wednesday service.
I do have a few humorous anecdotes that surfaced on my first day, however. (I am sure there will be plenty more.) I will entitle them, "You know your in a small town when..."
The first involved the day before Ash Wednesday. I was not officially on the job yet, but had got sucked in as I am living in the rectory next door, and everyone knows the "new preacher" is in residence.
I got a frantic call on the church phone, which rings into my rectory office if no one picks up in the church. I picked it up, and it was a local Lutheran minister who desperately needed some ashes for Ash Wednesday. The following conversation ensued:
Pastor: "Yeah, I desperately need some ashes for Ash Wednesday. I was not here last Easter, and no one saved any palm branches. I've called every church in town and no one has any to spare..."
The Archer: "How much do people thing they need to impose ashes? I mean, you just need a little bit for 100+ people."
Pastor: "I don't know, but they are afraid they won't have enough for themselves."
The Archer: "That's bizarre. I have plenty, so come on down if you need any."
I know it's a bad economy and all, but hoarding ashes? That's a new one.
The second incident was my apparently now weekly trip to the retirement home. They have a weekly bible study/service on Wednesdays and wanted ashes imposed since I was in town now. Afterward, we had lovely "tea and biscuits" as my British friends call it. (Biscuits in British slang are really what we Americans call cookies, which makes for interesting facial expressions when you try to explain to a Brit what we call "Biscuits and gravy for breakfast" is.)
In any event, before the service started at the retirement center, the ladies were all filing in. A few were on canes or walkers. One lady walks up to me and introduces herself. 'I'm 81 years old!" she exclaims rather loudly as she was a little hard of hearing. I didn't think anything about it. We chatted for a few moments and then another lady walks in.
"Oh, Father," says the first lady, "Let me introduce you to my mother!"
Her mother was 102 years old and they roomed together at the retirement home!