After breakfast at the corner café, Sean, Sidney, and Clay had gone back to Sean’s house where Sidney showered again and put on his clericals.He had an afternoon meeting with the vestry of St. Anselm’s.Sean dropped Sidney off at the church and said he and Clay would be back at 5 pm for the cookout.Sean drove Clay to a park where they played on the swings and then with the ducks at the pond.They went home for a quick nap before showering and dressing for the cookout.Sean reminded Clay it was important for them to be good and play nice with everyone.Clay nodded his head as if he understood, but Clay didn’t understand anything that was happening other than he was visiting with Uncle Sean.
Sean parked his vehicle at the church and helped Clay out of his car seat.They were both dressed in khaki shorts and blue polo shirts.Clay had insisted they wear their blue shirts; he wanted to look like his Uncle Sean.They walked through a roofed lychgate and found a cookout in full swing.Clay saw his daddy and started racing across the lawn to grab him.Sidney saw him coming and reached down and picked him up while continuing to talk to an imposing gentleman.
“Let me introduce my son, Clay.”
The man was very gracious and asked Clay how he liked Philadelphia.Clay was excited as he talked about the ducks by the lake when Sean walked up and hugged Sidney and kissed his cheek.
“How is my favorite priest holding up?”
Sean reached out, grabbed the older man’s hand, and told Bobby how good it was to see him again.
“Oh my God, Sean.Berla, come over here to see Sean.Sean is here this afternoon.”
A large, matronly woman quickly walked over and smothered Sean with kisses.Other people heard Sean’s name and came over to greet him.He was now the center of attention, which allowed Sidney to catch his breath.It had been a non-stop onslaught all afternoon as Sidney met with folks individually and in groups.He was thankful he had a good memory but still found it challenging to keep track of everyone’s name.He had studied the church’s website and learned as many names as he could and was now putting names with people.
Sidney’s smile was growing thin when Bobby Oliver had approached him with some not so subtle comments about his lack of experience.When Clay came running up, it felt like the cavalry had arrived.Sidney put Clay on the ground and pointed to some children playing.He suggested that Clay play with them but he refused.Sidney took his hand and walked over to the kids.He sat on the grass with Clay in his lap.He introduced himself and Clay started playing with the children.Soon the kids were clambering around Sidney. He was a magnet to young children who enjoyed his playful nature. That did not go unnoticed by the young parents who were concerned whether the new priest would be able to relate to children.
Sean was holding court with many of the old-timers.He listened, once again, to stories about the night of the Christmas Eve pageant.The stories were mythological in scope.No matter how old he was, Sean listened to the stories of that magical night. It was the first time that most people had met Sean.Sean told them about his current paintings and assured everyone that he was still living in Jimmy and Thelma’s house.
He then said that Sidney was the most remarkable brother in the world.They stopped talking.What did Sean mean when he said that Sidney was his brother?He told them about meeting Sidney at Joe and Thomas’ house and forming an instant connection.
“He is the brother I never had.I have never met anyone finer in my life, well, that is except for Daddy and Papa.And now he has little Clay, who was an abused child.He has just adopted Clay, you know.Clay thinks Sidney walks on water but we have to keep reminding him that Jesus walks on water, not Sidney.Clay is adamant that Sidney walks on water.You know, sometimes I think maybe Clay is right.”Everyone laughed.
Whatever questions people had before, the deal about offering Sidney the position as priest of the parish was sealed that afternoon at the cookout.Sidney could feel the mood shift from one of questioning whether he was their choice to one of getting to know their new priest.He didn’t know exactly what had happened to affect the change though Sean was fully aware.The meet and greet gathering turned into a real celebration.After finishing bowls of hand-cranked chocolate ice cream, Sean suggested that he take Sidney and Clay home for a good night’s rest.
“He has to preach in the morning, and I want to be alert and listen to what he has to say.I have heard he is a good preacher, but we will find out tomorrow, won’t we.”
Several people told Sean he better not be too critical of their new priest; they wouldn’t have it.Sean smiled and told them they were right.Sidney looked dumbfounded because the hiring process wasn’t supposed to work like this.He was a brand-new priest, with one year’s experience under his belt, and he was now being courted to lead a large inner-city church.
When they arrived back at the house, Sean suggested they have a drink to celebrate Sidney’s new job.Sidney could only grin and wonder how he got so lucky in his life.Clay climbed onto the sofa and fell asleep while Sean and Sidney chatted about the day.Before they went upstairs for bed, Sean walked through the house, turning out all the lights.Sidney picked up Clay, took him to the bedroom and stripped off his clothes, washed the last of the ice cream from his face, and tucked him in the center of the bed. Clay never woke.
Sean and Sidney stripped and walked into the shower.Sean scrubbed Sidney’s back and commented on his hairy butt.Sidney laughed and said that he was a beast.Sean then turned and asked Sidney to scrub him.Sidney worked hard not to chub up.After toweling off, they crawled in the bed with the men on either side of Clay.Sean rubbed Sidney’s head and told him that he was the perfect brother, before leaning in and giving him a good night kiss.It felt so natural to Sidney that the three of them were sleeping in the same bed.Sidney had planned to review the sermon one more time before going to bed but was too exhausted, and sleep came quickly.
When the alarm went off early on Sunday morning, Sean scurried out of bed and said they were already running late.They showered and Sidney dressed in his clericals.He had barely finished his coffee and cereal when Samantha Smith knocked on the front door.She was there to give Sidney a ride to church for the 8 am service. She refused a cup of coffee and told Sidney they were running late.Samantha told Sean and Clay she would see them at the later service as she scurried out of the front door.The commotion suddenly ended and then Sean had Clay settle in the library to watch cartoons until it was time to dress.
Clay was in awe when they walked into the church narthex.He was familiar with St. Paul’s in Mooresville, but St. Anselm’s was nothing like the church he attended on Sundays. St. Anselm’s was a grand granite structure, while the church in North Carolina was built of brick and had a much lower exterior profile to fit into the community.Clay kept looking up at the high painted ceiling.Sean made his way up the aisle holding Clay’s hand while the boy’s head swiveled, trying to take in everything.Sean got to Thelma and Jimmy’s pew and they took a seat.
Sean said a short prayer, remembering Thelma and Jimmy for their loving kindness, and asked prayers for Sidney and Clay.When the pipe organ started, Clay was caught unaware and let out a yelp and then started giggling.People around them smiled at the joyous response.It was summer and generally the choir was on hiatus but they had come back for the day.After all, it was a two-way street in getting a new rector.Both sides had to say yes.Samantha Smith had told all of the church leaders she wanted Sidney to see the church at its best.In the midst of a Covid19 epidemic, the church had a good size congregation.Everyone was wearing masks, and families were socially distanced, which made the church look full. There were giggles as the choir sang their anthem while wearing masks.Everyone knew it was better to be safe than sorry, even if the song sounded weird.
Sidney’s sermon was more than adequate.It was a tad academic, which one would expect from a new priest, but it was also filled with compassion for people and the need for churches to take the lead to heal wounds and to start building trust across communities.He mentioned that he had heard of a Christmas Pageant from many years prior where the city policeman participated, and the neighborhood embraced them and loved them.He stated they needed to get back to that point where there was mutuality of respect in the City of Brotherly Love.He said he had spent time that morning praying in the church graveyard for those who died of gun violence in Philadelphia and said he would like to lead the congregation to the garden after the service to remember those who had died.He had a list of those in the congregation who were sick with Covid19 and asked prayers for them.One thing was obvious to all; he already knew the names of members of the congregation and had his finger on the pulse of the community.This young man was already one of them.Leading the people to the graveyard relieved them of the necessity of shaking the priest’s hand on the way out.Sidney modeled putting his hands together in a prayerful pose and giving a bow to people.Someone mentioned it looked very Buddhist, and Sidney smiled and said there was something to be learned from all religions.People started emulating their new rector.
After the congregational prayers in the graveyard, Sean said he needed to sit for a few minutes with Bugboy.Clay asked if he could sit also.The two sat in the garden in quiet contemplation.Clay comforted Sean as the tears ran down the man’s cheeks.It was Pride Month in Philadelphia, and even though activities had been curtailed because of the virus outbreak, he needed to spend a little time with the man who had meant so much to him.When they left the garden, Sean saw Berla, who said that she was supposed to take Clay to his daddy, who was meeting with the vestry.The vestry wanted father and son together to announce their decision.Sidney held a sleeping Clay in his arms while he negotiated the terms of his employment agreement.He laughed, thinking that probably no one else had negotiated a contract while gently rocking a sleeping child.He clumsily signed his name to the agreement, holding his son in his arms, knowing that it had to be approved by the Bishop’s office before it was official.The salary was more than he was expecting, but Samantha joked and said that he would probably think it wasn’t adequate by the time the year was over.That comment, said in jest, was taken to heart by Sidney.He knew that the church was at a critical juncture, and he was being given the opportunity to keep the momentum going in the way that Thomas had in years past.He felt like he was up to the job and knew that he would quickly feel at home with Sean nearby.The meeting finished, and Sidney told them he would follow-up with his Bishop, and he looked forward to seeing them again soon.
Sean drove them to his home.Sidney was practically bouncing off the seat with enthusiasm, while Sean was in a reflective mood.Sidney’s visit and their time at St. Anselm’s had reopened many memories Sean had packed away.Certainly, the memories of first meeting Thomas and Joe were powerful as was his mother's death, but it was the memories of life after that when the three made a family and lived together that were so powerful.He had never felt so secure and loved in his life.His mother had loved him, but they had lived a hardscrabble existence.Many of his memories were of her being sick or him being ill and in the hospital.He always had to be the man of the house, and then he had two fathers.The rectory was always a man’s house though Thomas could get rather prim and proper at times.He loved his southern style of decorating and entertaining.Joe was the daddy who took Sean to work with him during the summer and over holidays.Sean learned how to wire a house and fix basic plumbing problems.He repainted many older homes when Joe had repaired plaster.They worked as a team, and they had matching work shirts and hats they wore to job sites.It was hard to tell which of them was prouder to be a father and son team. Thomas would kiss them when they would leave in the morning and hand them their lunch pails.During the school year, Joe and Thomas were at every parent-teacher conference, every football and basketball game, and every concert.It didn’t matter that Sean didn’t participate in any of those things; they supported Sean and the school.When the band boosters club needed to build a new concession stand at the ball field to sell food during football games, Joe offered to build it and Sean painted it.Sean became a popular student in high school, even though he was an arty nerd.People accepted the fact that Sean had two really cool dads.
Sean blossomed in the love that emanated from their home. Joe and Sean were inseparable.A light came on in Joe’s eyes when Sean would walk into the room.Joe and Thomas were deeply in love, but Sean added a son's love to a man who had always desired to have such. Joe felt that his life was complete with Thomas and Sean.All three thought they were the perfect family and their protective shield was impenetrable.Woe be to anyone who tried to get through that.
Sean remembered only too well when the rectory had become a de-facto hospice for AIDS patients.One or two patients were always living there.When the church treasurer objected about the costs for that to be happening, he was voted out by the vestry.Thomas said it was important for Ralph to stay as treasurer because he held them all accountable.He suggested that he work with Ralph to determine the actual cost of the patients receiving care at the rectory and that he and Joe would pay any additional costs.Ralph was grateful that Thomas had stood up for him when other people were disgusted with his nickel and diming everything at the church.Thomas knew that level of scrutiny was essential if St. Anselm’s was to survive in the future.
By the time Ralph had completed his audit, it was determined that the church actually owed money to the fund that supported the rectory.Joe had maintained meticulous records of his work at the church, the parish hall, and the rectory.Joe had never charged St. Anselm’s one red cent for anything he had done.He didn’t brag about the work he was donating, and when Ralph questioned the expenses, Joe quietly gave him the book of accounts he maintained for his work at the church.Of course, all of the work had been requested, and a church officer had signed off on every work order.Those work orders were all part of the book of accounts.Joe would not just take it upon himself to make repairs without a signed request and approval from the person who oversaw the buildings and grounds.The vestry was in a quandary because they realized that Ralph had backed them into a corner.He asked for an accounting, and now they had it, and it showed that they owed Joe McKendry thousands of dollars – if he wanted to collect.Joe had never sent them an invoice.
Thelma had invited Joe to the vestry meeting where this was to be discussed.The Senior Warden had excused Thomas from this part of the meeting, feeling that it wasn’t appropriate for him to be part of the discussion.Joe sat and listened to each of the vestry members talk.He felt it went on and on and on as they talked among themselves.Finally, Thelma could not stand any more of the talking and said they had invited Joe to the meeting and hadn’t allowed him to talk.
They all turned to look at Joe and he blushed from head to toe.He knew what he had to say and what he needed as an outcome.He and Thomas had spent a long time figuring out their approach.He started by telling them he didn’t want any of the money.You could hear the sighs of relief in the meeting until he said there was a price to pay for that.He then explained what he and Thomas expected the church to do.He spoke with a quiet passion that amazed everyone in the room.He and Thomas didn’t want more money for themselves.They wanted the money to help those in need.He said if there was one more discussion about the rectory expenses costing the church money, then he, Thomas, and Sean were prepared to search for a new church.Joe had cleared this with Thomas ahead of time and felt that he could say the words that Thomas never could.The members of the vestry knew this was not an idle threat.
When he finished speaking, there were apologies from around the room.Joe said he didn’t want apologies, but a promise that he would never be brought before this body again.Joe looked at Ralph and told him that he should thank Thomas for standing behind him.He also said that the next time Ralph had a question for there to be a private conversation instead of turning something into a public confrontation, especially when he didn’t have all of the facts.Joe reminded Ralph it was the Christian thing to do.At that point, Joe stood and excused himself and walked across the Church Close to the rectory.It was after midnight, but Thomas was waiting for him in the library.
“It is settled, Thomas.Let us go to bed.I need someone to love me tonight.I don’t know how you work with that group of people.You have to be a man of God because I wanted to slay every one of them. Well, except for Thelma.The rest can go to hell.”
After that, Joe stopped going to church regularly for a couple of years.He would show up for Easter and Christmas Eve.He would come on the occasional Sunday when there something special going on, but he couldn’t face people after what he had heard in the meeting.Gradually, he started going back because Sean asked him.Thomas never asked because he knew that Joe had experienced people at their worst, and he couldn’t ask him to do it again.Thomas knew that the church was fundamentally a hospital for those sick in spirit and that he was called to heal them.
Sean shook his head at the remembrances and thought they were in years past and there was no need to ponder the events anymore.He didn’t need those thoughts to take up occupancy in his psyche.Bugboy had died at the rectory as had many other young men who became his friends.He found that he had a natural inclination to listen to the men talk.He spent countless hours sitting beside beds, comforting men who needed someone to hear the stories of their lives.Sean would listen intensely and would often draw them as they talked, and as he imagined them looking at the height of their beauty.He could see through the illness and focus on their bone structure, the glint in their eyes when smiling, and their smiles.The men were always taken with Sean’s ability to capture their spirit through his artwork.Joe always had the drawings framed and they sat on the altar at their funeral services, then they would hang in the rectory.Sean also had many requests for portraits and was busy painting in his spare time.He became a bit of a celebrity when the Mayor asked Sean to paint his official portrait for City Hall.The portraits gave Sean spending money and a sense of freedom.Hanging over the mantel in the parlor of his home was his portrait of Jimmy and Thelma.They were dressed in formalwear and Sean had captured the great love between the two of them.
Sean knew it had all started at the church when he appeared one day to help with the Christmas pageant and then he lived there for many years until he inherited Thelma and Jimmy’s house.It was at this same church that Sidney was planning to begin a new pilgrimage through life and to build a home for himself and Clay.