Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Will There Be An Easter? Not Without The Ukulele.

When dear Harry Pritchett was rector of All Saints' back in the 80s and 90s, the 9 o'clock Easter morning service was a sight to behold. It was truly a child-focused extravaganza. Children were encouraged to bring flowers to flower the funny little chicken wire cross that was stationed in front of the choir section, as well as their mite boxes that they'd been putting pennies in throughout Lent. 

All the children in the parish - even the toddlers from the nursery (thank you, nursery workers for shepherding them) - were invited to bring their flowers and mite boxes up to the altar to numerous verses of "Welcome, Happy Morning," while clergy frantically stuffed the crushed and funny flowers into the chicken wire cross as the kids filed up. I'm sure the clergy hated that part, but too bad. The scene was hilarious and festive. 

It was a most wonderful Easter parade, as all the children in their little suits and fluffy dresses and bonnets crowded up to the front. It was a chance to see all the kiddos in their finery. A great gathering of All Saints' youngsters crowded up in front of the altar and settled in for what was to come. 

So there's Harry wearing his white bucks under all the Easter robes. He says a few words to the kids, asking them questions about the meaning of Easter. And then - out comes the ukulele, and the children and the whole congregation knows what's coming next. 

Now, Harry wrote a song years ago that I've heard sung not only at All Saints' but around the church called "God is a Surprise." And that's where the ukulele comes in -  to accompany his rendition of "Surprise."

        Moses tended sheep upon a mountain
        He hardly noticed when
        A burning bush said (and here Harry would pause, look back at the kids, and they would shout)
        Set my people free and take them to my land.
        'That couldn't be my God,' he said.
        'He'd have a better plan."

        (Then the whole congregation would join in the chorus)
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Right before your eyes,
        It's baffling to the wise.
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Open up your eyes and see!

The song goes on for a few more verses, gets to the crucifixion, and the Sunday "surprise" and ends with:

        Seek our God in hope, moving as he goes
        With justice, grace, and love in anything that grows.
        In anything at all he suddenly may be,
        'cause everything is his, you know, especially you and me.

        Well, surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Right before your eyes,
        It's baffling to the wise.
        Surprise, surprise, God is a surprise!
        Open up your eyes and see!
Then Harry would shout, "Broadway ending!"

        Open up your eyes! And! See!

Lots of clapping and laughter ensued, as poor Ray Chenault would start up "He Is Risen" to play the kids off the altar and back to their parents or the nursery. Yeah, it took about seven or eight verses of that one, too. It was joyous and beautiful and funny and chaotic and loving and crazy and sweet. Alas, I have no photos or recordings of those wild and woolly Easter morning services, which breaks my heart. 

But getting back to that ukulele.

When Kate was four years old, Allison Pritchett asked to have her come over for a visit one afternoon. Allison was impatient for grandchildren, so until her three children married and gave her some real grands (which they did, by the way), Kate was sort of her stand-in grandchild. Anyway, it happened to be Maundy Thursday, which is neither here nor there, except that at some point, Harry comes tearing though the door, asking "Have you seen my ukulele? It's not at the office, and I have to find it for Easter!"

Well, as Allison told it to me, 4-year-old Kate's eyes got big, and she said, "Oh! Will there be an Easter?" 

No, child. No Easter without Harry's ukulele. (kidding)

Fortunately for all, Harry found the instrument before Sunday, so Easter came, indeed. Because God and Harry are full of surprises. 

I miss that service. I miss all the parish children gathering at the altar. I miss singing forty-eleven verses of "Welcome Happy Morning" and "He is Risen." I miss those crushed little flowers in chicken wire and the falling-apart mite boxes. 

And I really miss that ukulele. Happy Easter, y'all.