At St. Luke’s, I had a sense of belonging and a job. I was an acolyte. Before the service, I pulled on a white robe and got the brass candle holder that was almost as tall as I was. We made sure the wicks were trimmed.
The service started and it was a feast for the eyes and ears.
Father Jacobs wore floor-length robes, hand-stitched in gold thread in intricate patterns. We sang hymns from the hymn books in front of each pew.
Our noses took in the spicy incense wafting from the brass holder that Father Jacobs swung.
When it came time for Father Jacobs to read from the enormous bible in the aisle, the other candle acolyte and I stood on either side of him with our candles. Our official name was the Torchbearers.
The candle light wasn’t necessary. The bright walls and the stained glass windows kept the church bright. But holding the candle was an important duty.
We sat in a special pew next to the altar. As wiggly eight-year-olds, our attention drifted from the service. We couldn’t resist whispering and cracking ourselves up. The pressure of trying to be quiet made an ordinary comment funny.
Another priest might have fired us as acolytes. Too giggly! Too silly! We could be called. But Father Jacobs answered our giggles with a calm smile and patient look. We settled into the pew and watched the service again.
His kindness quieted us more than another’s anger could have.
I was an acolyte for less than a year but my time serving affects my life today. I still love candles. I carry his kindness like a torch. Not everyone needs it to live by but I offer it just the same.
* * *
My mother was a believer in candles. We could walk into any church or cathedral, and if there were candles to be lit, she would light one. St. Luke’s had a place to light them.
The candles were stair-step rows, some flickering from previous people lighting them, some fresh and unlit, some empty of wax with just the wick holder.
She dropped a coin in the box attached in the front and gave me one to put in. My coin clinked as it fell on top of other coins inside. A quarter was a whole week’s worth of allowance and seems like a lot to me for a little candle. A quarter was a significant amount in 1977, as gas was about 65 cents a gallon.
I don’t know what she prayed for. She never said.
She took the punk from the sand and found another candle to light it, then she lit her candle and passed the smoldering stick to me.
“Say a prayer when you light it.”
As a girl, I mixed prayers up with wishes. I imagined the candles at church were the same as candles on a birthday cake, except instead of blowing them out, you light them. I lit the candle and made a wish.
Then we stood. She watched the white candles burn and move. I stood next to her, waiting, not knowing her thoughts.
I was still at the age when I was willing to stand at her side even if I didn’t know what was going on, or how long it would take. I was willing to wait with her then.