As we move toward publication, please enjoy another excerpt from Earning Innocence.
As is true of most churches across the country, Wednesday night means choir practice. So Marjorie Stemlich flies down the back roads a good fifteen, maybe twenty miles over the speed limit. She knows that cops park down by the wide bend of the stream, fishing for traffic violators. But she is always late.
Marjorie’s old Chevy squeals to a stop in the parking lot. She hustles up the sidewalk, her arms full of sheet music, which we all hope match the hymns I have selected. Marjorie bursts into the sanctuary and heads straight for the piano, which has been pushed into the right-hand corner. She plops down and scoots toward the keys, as the old wooden bench underneath her protests with crotchety creaks. The choir members all quiet down, for this is their cue. Marjorie is their general.
Her steady hands provide the tunes for our worship service every Sunday. Given that nearly all Moravians love to sing, her leadership is indispensable and invaluable. She plays no extra notes and rarely makes even the slightest mistake. Week in and week out, year after year, she has skillfully provided exactly what we need. And she is a volunteer. I am reminded of a Joni Mitchell song—our pianist plays real good for free.
A few months ago during worship, I sat contemplating my closing charge to the congregation when it hit me that Marjorie was playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as the offertory. She ably concluded and launched right into the Old One Hundredth doxology. But in that brief pause in between songs, I saw her smile to herself—the secret of quiet laughter.
Most Wednesdays, Marjorie leaves the parking lot as quickly as she arrives. I happen to know that she often pulls over onto the highway shoulder. The old engine gives a hiss when it is cut off, which she prefers to hear as a grateful sigh, for the chance to rest is rare. When the weather is clear, she rolls down her window. Leaning back in her seat, Marjorie closes her eyes and quiets her heart.