The chords of the postlude ramped and bounded through the church like a young lion in glory. Worshippers poured over the steps and onto the street like a swollen Nile. Just before I reached the verge, I tilted up my face to the stained glass Rose Window, begging for a last kiss of that heraldic gold and azure before braving the harsher light of day. Too late. Claws of sunlight raked my skin and pierced my irises, and my upturned eyes were slain.
Through the dim purple haze, I heard a voice. “Professor Theophilus! Hi!” Blinking my streaming orbs open, I recognized the smiling face of Zack.
“Good morning!” I said, “and welcome! Fancy seeing you here. Excuse me.” I rubbed my eyes.
“Is this your church, Prof?”
“It is, but I thought you worshipped at — I can’t remember its name — the pretty neo-gothic church just over the north edge of campus.”
“I did. Lately we’ve been visiting all kinds of different churches. This is the eighth one we’ve been to.”
“‘Did’ — past tense? Are you looking for a new church? Who’s ‘we’?”
“‘We’ is me and Julie, and yes, that’s right, I’m searching. I tried to be a ‘faithful remnant’ at my old church, if you know what I’m saying, but it’s a lost cause. I mean, the congregation is good and I love the people, but the denomination is having a meltdown. So I’m scouting around for a new one.”
“You say Julie’s with you?”
“She was here a second ago —”
“I am here! Hi!” Julie said. Julie is small and has a way of popping up, like a Pekinese might do after having a few shots of espresso. “I was just talking to the — do you call him pastor?”
“Good morning! Yes, he’s our pastor. You’re scouting for a new church too?”
She shrugged. “Zack is. I guess I am, but I have some issues. I’m mainly looking for a place to get married.” She turned to Zack and made a face. “I asked him. Same story.”
Zack glanced back at the door of the church, then at me. “Professor T’s a member. Do you think —?”
“Smart boy!” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Prof, doesn’t he have brilliant ideas? Wouldn’t you be willing to pull a string or two for a dear, sweet, deserving, almost-engaged couple that you’ve known since before any of us were ever born or thought of?”
“As usual, Julie, I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
Zack returned my grin. “We can explain. But is this a bad time for you? Are you waiting for Mrs. T to come out of church and go home or something?”
“No, she has responsibilities that will keep her busy right through the next worship service. I was just about to duck into the fellowship hall for a bite of breakfast, and maybe some chat. Why don’t you come along? You can be the chattees.”
“You can eat here?” Julie’s eyes widened.
I chuckled. “Each Sunday morning a different lay ministry serves breakfast. It’s one of the ways they raise money for their work, and it’s cheap.”
Zack asked, “Which group is serving this morning?”
“Los Amigos. You’re lucky. They make the best huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos.”
“Super!” said Julie. To Zack, she asked “Can we?” To me, “Are you sure you don’t mind us barging in?”
“You’re not barging. And since you’re — I mean, since Zack is scouting around for a new church, I’ll introduce you to some people.”
“Oh, I’m scouting too, of course,” said Julie, after a moment adding, “I guess.”
A few minutes later, after several serving-line introductions and various wanderings off to find coffee and juice, we plopped down at a long folding table. Zack set down a paper plate stacked with breakfast tacos — flour tortillas stuffed with chorizos and scrambled eggs.
“So what’s all this about?”
“Well, like I said,” answered Julie, “we’re almost engaged, and I thought that if I could find a place to get married, that would solve Zack’s problem too.”
“There you go again. There are at least two places in that sentence where you lose me completely.”
Zack found this very funny. “She always talks like that. Like you used to tell me, Professor T: ‘Enumerate your difficulties.'”
“All right, number one. What does it mean to be ‘almost’ engaged? Is that like what used to be called being ‘pinned’? Or is it something like betrothal?”
“No, it means we’re probably going to be engaged. If only —”
“It’s like this,” broke in Julie. “If we do get married, we’ll join our lives, right? That means in everything. So we have to make sure ahead of time that we’ll agree about important things, like finances, and decision-making, and how to raise the children, and, well, worship. And we don’t. I mean we do. Except for that. The last one.”
The purple haze was coming back.
“She means,” Zack translated, “that we have to be joined in the spiritual dimension too. So it wouldn’t make sense if we couldn’t worship together.”
“And can’t you?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out. It’s the very last issue, the only one holding us back.”
“What’s the obstacle? Do you have a doctrinal disagreement?”
“No. I mean we do.”
Julie grinned. “Now you sound like me. What he means, Professor, is that we don’t disagree about any of the basic teachings of Christianity, but only about what church is.”
Zack flinched. “I thought we —”
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “Habit. He means that the meaning of church is one of the basics.
“But the two of you disagree about that?”
“No-o-o — I’m coming around. Slowly, anyway. Church. Body of Christ. All joined together. Not just ‘it’s you and me, God.’ It makes perfect sense in my head. But my emotions are in a different place. For me it’s real hard to get used to. I’ve always been a — well —”
“A church-hopper,” Zack said, perhaps with more accuracy than delicacy. Julie gave him a funny look as though she were trying to decide whether to be cross or amused.
Amusement won. “That’s me,” she said. “A regular ecclesial — ecclesiolastical —”
“That. A regular ecclesiological grasshopper. But at least I’m beginning to understand why it’s important to pick a place and stick there.” She sighed. “Sort of.”
“So if you can come to agreement —”
“Then we’ll get engaged,” she said.
Zack added, “Because that’s our last issue. If we can agree about that one, we’re sure we can make our marriage work.”
I remarked, “You’re wise to talk everything through before making a decision. A lot of couples seem to think that successful marriages are built on romantic feelings alone.”
“We had a long talk about that with my Dad,” he said. “He said that feelings come and go — that love is something greater than feelings and that it can’t depend on them. He also talked about ‘the everyday work of love,’ and said it depends more on having the same mind than on having the same feelings.”
“Zack has a great Dad,” said Julie. “I wish I could just adopt him.”
I smiled. “I understand now what you mean by ‘almost engaged.’ But what did you mean when you said you thought that if you could find a place to get married, that would ‘solve Zack’s problem too’?”
Her eyebrows shot up. “You don’t see it? But look. If we’re going to have a church, then we ought to get married in that church, right?”
“Then what could make better sense than this? We decide where’s the nicest place to get married — and then make that our church!”
“But if you don’t have a church yet — how can you decide where it would be good to get married?”
Zack shook his head. “I’ve been trying to explain it to her, Prof. She’s putting the cart before the horse.”
Julie said, “Look, I know ecclesilo — ecclegial —”
“That. Couldn’t I just say ‘churchiology’? Anyway, I know ecclesiology isn’t my strongest Christian subject. But I just don’t get what’s wrong with my idea. After all, it’s not about church-hopping. I do get it now about that.” She paused. “Sort of.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want to decide on the ‘nicest’ place for getting married —”
“And then make that our church!” she beamed. “We’d just keep on going there afterward.”
“But what makes a place ‘nice’ for getting married?”
She took a deep breath, let it out, and gestured with her head toward the sanctuary. “That would be a nice place for getting married.”
“It would be a nice place for my daughters because it’s where they worship. But why would it be a nice place for you??”
“Because it’s gorgeous!” she said.
I shouldn’t have been speechless, but I was.
“And his eyes were opened,” Zack murmured in amusement.
“Now don’t you tell me that you don’t think beauty is important,” Julie replied, earrings dancing impatiently. “And I’ll bet Professor Theophilus doesn’t think so either. I happen to know that the people here have just finished a big restoration, just to make the church all beautiful again. Right, Professor T?”
“That’s true, and I would never say beauty isn’t important. Human beings hunger for beauty as they hunger for food. Lack of beauty is one of the great problems of modern life.”
“See?” she said to Zack, tossing her head.
I wasn’t finished. “But the greatest beauty is the beauty of God, which the beauty in churches reflects. Doesn’t it matter to you what’s taught about God in a church?”
“Don’t all churches teach standard Christian stuff?” she asked.
“What are you calling standard Christian stuff?”
“You know. Creation, Fall, Redemption. God made us, we messed up, He shows us the way back through Jesus. Everyone knows that stuff.”
“What do you think about that, Zack? Do all churches teach the things Julie is talking about?”
“Don’t I wish! If every church taught them, I wouldn’t be looking for a new one.”
Julie reflected. “That’s true. I’ve been telling him for years that he shouldn’t go to that crazy church of his. They don’t even believe in the Bible any more, like they used to.”
“Be fair,” Zack said. “The people in my congregation believe in it, like I was telling Professor T a few minutes ago. The problem isn’t in my congregation — it’s in the denomination my congregation belongs to.”
“All right. But they believe okay things here, don’t they? I listened, and I didn’t hear anything off-note. There were some things I didn’t follow, but it sounded Christian to me. And you do some weird stuff, like singing songs out of a book instead of projecting the words on the wall like in regular churches — but I’ve been to church with Zack, so I’m used to strange customs. So I thought, why not get married in this church and join it afterward?”
I laughed. “For one thing, Julie, they wouldn’t let you. You’d have to join the church, then get married.”
“Is that what the pastor meant when he said ‘No’?”
“Is ‘No’ all he said?”
“It’s not exactly all he said. He talked about going to classes, and having premarital counseling, and some other things I didn’t quite understand. Do we have to jump through all those hoops?”
“I’m afraid so. Partly to make sure that you really do understand.”
“Would you vouch for us? Get them to bend the rules a little?”
“Is that what you meant earlier by ‘pulling strings’?” I laughed. “These rules don’t bend, and there aren’t any strings to pull. Think of it this way. You’re thinking of joining yourself in marriage to Zack. That’s serious business, isn’t it?”
“Well, sure! That’s why we’re talking everything out. We have to be certain we’re doing the right thing.”
“Joining yourself to the church is serious business too.”
“Is that how you think of it? Like getting married to the church?”
“Not just him,” said Zack. “That’s how I think of it too.”
“But asking whether Professor Theo could get them to bend the rules was your brilliant idea!”
“I admit it was my idea, but it wasn’t brilliant. I should have known better.”
“Gosh, all this time I thought the pastor was just being sniffy because he didn’t know us. It was the only thing that made me think maybe this wouldn’t be a nice place to get married — you know, because the people would have to be nice.” Julie was silent for a moment. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“Good!” Zack announced, lifting his eyebrow and lowering his breakfast taco, “because all through breakfast we’ve been talking about your problem, and we haven’t said a word about mine.”
“Mr. Chairman,” she said, “I yield the floor to the gentleman with scrambled egg on his chin.”
“What problem, Zack? Do you mean how hard it is to find a new church?”
“Not exactly,” he answered sadly. “How hard it is to leave my old one.”
Copyright 2005 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.