By: Dennis Bates
One of my favorite parts of our church service actually happens before the service begins. After the pastor and the lay leader enter the sanctuary through the center door in the back, the organist begins the Prelude which is supposed to signify that it’s time to quiet down and prepare for the service itself.
Presbyterians have a rather annoying habit of treating the sanctuary like an American Legion dance floor. They talk using outside voices, laugh and carry on as if somebody just called out B 7 or O 69. I actually think I’ve heard several people shout out BINGO on occasion. That might be understandable in the church across the street on Bingo night during the week, but never before Mass on a Sunday morning.
Once the Prelude starts two of the younger members of the church family bring brass candle lighters down the center aisle and light the candles on the alter in the front of the church. Various denominations call these candle lighters by different names. Presbyterians being the creative sect that they are call them… Candle Lighters.
Regardless of what you call them, they take their role in the service very seriously for the most part, and usually even the chattiest person stops talking when they see the children carry their candle lighters to the front of the church. It’s kind of an unwritten rule.
It’s the excitement of the Candle Lighters that impresses me the most. They all want to do it and get incredibly serious when it’s their turn to light the candles. We have a young man in our congregation that is confined to a wheel chair. His face beams when he drives his motor driven chair to the front of the church. If you ever want to see the face of an angel, I’ll give you directions to our little church so you can watch. It is truly inspiring and it is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye. This young man surely knows about the joy of the Lord and his sermon that lasts no more than the 30 second ride down the aisle would make even the best evangelist feel inadequate.
He is not alone. The children come in fancy dresses, blue jeans, shorts and hockey jerseys, but they all radiate the brightness of their candle lighters when then march proudly to the front of the church and start the service by lighting the candles on the altar. Jesus said “…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” He had to have seen the pride and the simple joy of these children’s faces when He said that.,
Two Sundays ago when the children walked down the aisle to light the candles, both of the Candle Lighter’s wicks went out just as the children were about to light the candles in front. Some quick thinking by one of the mothers minimized the situation as she ran to the back of the church and brought the butane lighter up to the front to relight the wicks. She could have just used the lighter to light the altar candles themselves, but she didn’t. She lit the children’s brass lighters and stood there until they finished lighting the altar candles, and the children seemed pleased.
I couldn’t help thinking about the simple lessen that the Holy Spirit had just demonstrated to all of us watching. Too soon the joy and the excitement of carrying the light for the worship service flickers and goes out for children. As adults we can laugh or relight the candles with our own light so we can get through the service as quickly as possible and get to the rest of the day.
Or…we can do what this mother did: keep the children’s light going even if we have to run to the back of the church, and let the children bring in the light so hopefully they never lose it. It’s up to us. Will we encourage the children to bring in the light and receive the blessing of being able to watch their joy, or will we pat them on the head and push them aside so we can get on with more important things that really don’t mean a thing?
I hope we let them bring in the light and try to recapture the joy we had when we were that age.