Call to prayer

This reflection appeared first at the Episcopal Cafe

After a protracted battle with data plans and wifi boosters, and a long sojourn in the side chapel, it was only this past Palm Sunday that I was finally able, with any reliability (thanks to a Music Director with a spare thousand feet of ethernet cable and a cheap adapter), to broadcast our service from the church main. It was wonderful to be back behind the altar for Holy Week and Easter, despite the empty pews and the phantom, pre-recorded organ music.

It was also only a minute and a half into that Palm Sunday service that I heard it for the first time: a single, swift, unmistakably electronic “beep”.

“I only just replaced the battery on that darned smoke alarm,” I inwardly cursed, whilst scanning the Zoom squares for signs that anyone else had heard and keeping my outward composure suitably (hopefully) liturgical. The repetition against which I was braced did not, however, occur, and I gradually relaxed into the service and forgot about it.

On Maundy Thursday, at 6:01:30pm, it did it again.

Now, I was puzzled. Only later – one hour later, to be precise – as I locked up the sacristy to leave did the penny drop.

Somewhere in the sanctuary or close at hand, abandoned for a year and running a minute-and-a-half slow, there is an old-fashioned digital watch, the kind that is set to beep every hour, on the hour.

Between 12:01:30pm Good Friday and 10:01:30am Easter Sunday I pondered the problem. The thing was irritating me! But I scoured the chancel, the adjacent closets, the sacristy, the organ bench, the choir pews, all to no avail.

So I decided that maybe in this new season of resurrection it was time to look at it from another angle.

This past year has been full of electronics, which have sometimes cooperated and sometimes seemed almost malevolent in their refusal to participate in parish liturgy. But they have mostly been supportive. I have learned a lot – including when to give in. It has taken a while, I may admit, to feel quite at ease with online worship, even as I have encouraged others to join me in it. The pre-service routines and rituals, likewise, have undergone a sea-change since I started doubling up as celebrant and Zoom host. Even after recruiting help and co-hosts throughout the year, it is only relatively recently that I have felt as though I were beginning to find my sea-legs again.

Now, with another change of location and a new technological innovation, comes this beep.

The last time I attended an in-person conference, I remember the keynote speaker mentioning in passing that he sets an alarm on his phone at noon each day to remind him to pray.

So I have decided to regard this beep as my personal call to prayer. After the unwinding of the ethernet cable, the checking of signal and sound, the arrival of the co-host, the muting of the pre-service chatter, the sharing of the pre-recorded prelude – now, a minute and a half into the music, just before I greet the people I can see and those whom I cannot in the name of the Risen Christ, now it reminds me that it is time to let go of all that is beyond me, and let the Spirit lead me to a stronger signal, a faster connection, a much more reliable server, a powerful and timeless technology.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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