Saturday, December 17, 2016

Journey to Maria's Ordination

Friend and fellow blogger Maria Evans was to be ordained to the transitional diaconate last night, December 16, at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. This post will mostly be about my experience of the crazy two days. Sorry for the self-absorption. 
I was honored to be asked to serve as crucifer for the festival service in which Maria and two others would be ordained.  The Cathedral’s verger, Shug Goodlow, and I had agreed to meet at 3:30, before the general rehearsal at 4:30, before the ordination service at 6:00 p.m.  If you know me, you know that serving as crucifer is a deep joy to me.  Further, I had walked with Maria through this journey for several years, so I was doubly thrilled to serve in this ordination.
To be sure I got to the Cathedral in plenty of time to meet Shug at 3:30, I left home at 12:30 Friday (yesterday), giving me 3 hours to arrive. That shouldn’t be a problem, for it’s generally a 2-hour drive from home to the Cathedral.  I was in great shape, I thought. Just before I left, a freezing drizzle began to fall.  I had been checking weather sites for two days.  All had said there was at most a 20% chance of precipitation, and all had said the temperature would be above freezing.  But they were all wrong.  When I got to my car, it was covered in a thin sheet of ice.  When I made my first turn, the car slid a bit on the ice.  Uh-oh, I thought; better take it easy.
I got onto highway 54 in town.  You who know the area will know it’s the highway that goes north for 30 miles, where it links up with Interstate 70 at Kingdom City. The speed limit is 70.  But everyone was driving 30 mph, and for good reason.  It should have taken me ½ hour to get to I-70.  Instead, it took an hour. In that 30 miles, I saw 7 vehicles spun out in the median and ditches.  I realized I was already cutting it close for making my 3:30 appointment for crucifer practice.  St. Louis is 2 hours from home, and 1½ hours from the Kingdom City interchange.
I took the exit ramp onto I-70 and was confronted with a horrible sight: a traffic snarl with vehicles moving at a crawl.  I figured it was a temporary delay. I was grateful that a semi truck let me into the right lane between him and another truck ahead of me.  We crawled along for ¼ mile.  Then we all stopped.  For a little while, I figured.  I was wrong.  At 1:50, I put the car in park and took my foot off the brake.  I had the heat all directed to the windshield to keep the ice from forming.  About 2:15, with the car warm, I turned off the ignition to save gas until we started moving.  Long story short: We all sat right there for 2½ hours.  During that time, I operated the windshield wipers often enough to keep the ice from forming, but only turned on the engine when I got too darn cold and needed the heater. Some people got out of their cars and "skated" on their shoes on the iced road.  A couple of women got out with a blanket, went off to the right, and guys held up blankets around them.  I think I know what they were doing.  After all, there was no restroom for miles around. 
At about 2:00, I alerted the Head Verger at the Cathedral about my situation and status, letting her know I wouldn’t make 3:30 practice and had no idea when I would make it to the Cathedral.  Then I texted Maria, letting her know of my situation.  She replied that she was stuck in the same traffic snarl, probably about a mile behind me.  She was with Carrol Davenport, the vicar at Trinity/Kirksville. We texted a lot, always hoping we would begin to move soon. While waiting, I listened to NPR for a while, then took out a book and began reading.  I never imagined I’d be parked there from 1:50 to after 4:00. 
When traffic began moving about 4:10, I was still about 90 miles from the Cathedral.  Way too late for rehearsal.  And the people back at the Cathedral were talking with Maria about what to do about the ordination of the three transitional deacons.  Everyone recognized that the hazardous road conditions wouldn’t get us there in time for the 6:30 service.  The Bishop and people at the Cathedral had agreed they were willing to postpone the ordination service start for an hour, to 7:30.  We all kept calling and texting with updates.
The fact that the traffic had begun to move wasn’t an “all clear” situation.  The first time we started moving, we made it about ½ a mile crawling along, then it was a parking lot again.  Eventually, we began crawling along at 5 to 10 mph.  An hour and a half later, we had moved 17 miles.  It was nearly 6:00 p.m.  My buttocks were aching.  I was hungry, not having eaten since breakfast.  And I seriously needed to pee. Then I came to a MODOT roadside sign, alerting us there was a traffic stoppage ahead, with a 20 to 30 minute wait.   I texted Maria that I was taking the next exit, at mile 175, where there is a gas station and a McDonalds. 
When I walked into the McDonalds, I was shocked.  It was like the U.S. version of a refugee transit station.  The place was full. There was nowhere to sit.  People were eating standing up.  Everyone was talking about the journey and ordeals they had endured in their travel. I wasn’t the only one who had taken the exit from snarled traffic to find food and bladder relief.
As I moved toward the rest room, a hand grasped my shoulder.  I turned to find it was the Rev. Christina Cobb, a priest of our diocese, a friend of Maria who had been in Lui (South Sudan) with her, one of Maria’s presenters. She had driven south from Mexico, Missouri, to rendezvous with Maria and Carrol and drive into St. Louis – a plan that had been hatched before any of us knew what the weather would throw at us. Chris was on the phone with Maria, and had learned the new plan at the Cathedral.  It was clear to all that we could not possibly make it there by 7:30.  The Bishop had made the decision to go ahead with the 6:30 start time for the two other ordinands and to ordain Maria the next morning at 10:00.  We all agreed this was a good decision.
Chris was still going to rendezvous with Maria and Carroll, and they were going to slog into St. Louis and get a hotel room for the night.  I decided to drive back home and make the drive this morning, when the weather was supposed to be clear.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of driving on to St. Louis with no toothbrush, no change of clothes. And I had observed that the westbound traffic (back toward home) seemed to be moving well.  I figured I would get more sleep by driving home and driving back to St. Louis on Saturday.   
Indeed.  I got home by 7:30.  Slow traffic but not a crawl.  Maria and the others didn’t get to St. Louis ‘til well after 10:00.
At home, I made contact again with the Cathedral’s verger and learned that no acolytes would be used in Maria’s ordination – not even a crucifer.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.  But still determined to be present with Maria for her ordination.
So this morning, I awoke to the alarm at 5:30 a.m.  I turned on my tablet computer to the St. Louis NPR station.  Partly because they have better programming early on a Saturday, but also in hopes of hearing their weather.  Here at home, it was 34 degrees and no precipitation.  All looked well.  I made coffee, fed the cats, did the morning chores. Then the St. Louis station weather at around 6:30 offere
d a dire report, saying that freezing rain was supposed to start about 10 a.m., exactly when Maria’s ordination was to begin. They also reported that the state Dept. of Transportation was telling everyone to stay off the roads between here and St. Louis.
I texted a friend in St. Louis, asking what he was hearing, but I guess he wasn’t up yet.  I proceeded to shower and dress for Maria’s ordination.  I got in the car and headed out. 
About the time I got to Kingdom City again, my friend replied to my text: “Don’t come. I doubt you’ll be able to get home in the weather that’s coming.”  I pulled off the road at Kingdom City, got a cup of coffee, and sat and thought.  It was a horrible time.  I deeply wanted to be at Maria’s ordination.  But I didn’t want to end up in a ditch.  After much thought, I turned around and headed home as a freezing drizzle resumed. 

Maria Evans after ordination. A happy Bishop Wayne Smith at right background. 

Thanks be to God, Maria was ordained.  St. Louis friends were there, as well as those from Kirksville who had spent the night in St. Louis.  I am grieving that I wasn’t there. But Maria reminds me that the ordination that matters – her ordination to the priesthood – will be in June.  Surely I will not be thwarted then by freezing weather and hellish travel conditions.

I’ll post more photos of Maria’s ordination on Facebook from a friend who was in St. Louis for the weekend. 

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