The Choir Director

“And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.”

-Oliver Goldsmith, “The Deserted Village”

The worship service was almost a disaster this past Sunday at Watervalley First Presbyterian. It was all because of the panties.

Hymnals The whole business started several weeks ago when a production company that was doing a documentary on churches in rural America contacted First Presbyterian. The Session at First Pres had agreed to let them come and set up cameras and microphones on the strict promise that they would not interrupt the service. First Presbyterian’s young pastor, Joe Dawson, had his reservations about all this, but reluctantly, he agreed. As it turns out, his suspicions were well founded.

Secretly, the producers of the documentary were wanting to show how small town churches who blindly clung to age old rituals, centuries old liturgy, and hundred year old hymns were no longer culturally relevant and dying on the vine. This minor point was craftily not mentioned in the interview.

The filming had been announced to the congregation a few weeks back. Pastor Dawson told everyone it was just another Sunday worship, albeit, he did ask Tubby Duff to refrain from dipping during the service… at least for this one Sunday. Tubby was usually discreet, but still, he did sing in the choir and would be highly visible to the cameras. Tubby reluctantly agreed. Only in Watervalley.

Meanwhile, people couldn’t resist giving into the “spotlight” syndrome. The choir held an extra practice and Lilith Warren, the Choir Director for the last twenty years, had asked everyone to take their black robes home and put it through the wash. That’s what caused the panty problem.

Although she was the Choir Director, Lilith always played the organ while Sandy Green, one of the choir members, lead the singing. A single schoolteacher in her early forties, she was a stalwart devotee of the choir. Not only was Sandy a good soul all the way around, she was also a good span all the way around, being a woman of modest height and considerable heft.

However, the other choir members tended to keep their distance from Sandy. She was certainly likable but over the years she had developed a habit of making a rather irritating snorting sound with her soft palate. It was part of her vocal warm up.  If you listened to it for very long you wanted to smack her. That may be why no one noticed the panties.

The choir always filed into the choir loft from a backside door at the start of each service. A low railing separated them from the pulpit area. Lilith would already be seated in the organ box to the right of the pulpit, playing as this motley bunch marched in. As she always did, Sandy came in last and took a chair situated in front of the low railing and on the left side of the pulpit, opposite the organ. Before Sandy sat down, she turned around to pick up the hymnal in the chair. That’s when Lilith went into a panic.

Clinging to the back of Sandy’s robe was a pair of leopard print panties, and not a small pair at that. It was an untimely testimony to the harsh realities of unchecked static cling.

Lilith’s hands were clearly occupied playing the Opening Voluntary. So, there was no chance of offering some hand signal to Sandy. It probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway, given that there’s no universal consensus on a hand gesture for underwear.

As soon as Lilith finished the processional music, Joe Dawson was on his feet, delightedly addressing the congregation with the announcements for the week and then immediately plunging into the call to worship. Joe knew that even if you loved the centuries old liturgy, you still had to bring a little energy to it. Just like that, the service was underway. Lilith had to think fast.

An idea struck her, but unfortunately, it would have to wait. It was time for the first hymn. While Lilith played the organ, the choir and congregation stood and sang, “Blest Be The Tie That Binds.” For Lilith, there was something darkly symbolic about this.

As she normally did, Sandy positioned herself behind the pulpit and led the congregation in the singing, all the while facing forward. Fortuitously, her backside and the stuck-on panties were directed toward the choir and not exposed to the congregation and the cameras. However, one by one, the members of the choir were becoming enlightened.

The sopranos in the front row noticed it first. This sent a ripple of wide-eyed and shocked disbelief up and down the line. Jittery nods and sideways glances shot everywhere and hymnals were lifted to cover desperate whispers. Eventually all thirty members of the choir were paralyzed and by the start of the second verse they were completely silent, standing and gaping in slack jawed wonder. Needless to say, this was a problem.

Typically, the congregation at First Presbyterian mumbled their way through the hymns, content to let the choir do all the heavy lifting. But with the choir down for the count, by midway through the second verse, the vocal part of the hymn was in danger of drying up all together. Lilith peddled up the organ volume and stared at the choir, singing at the top of her robust best. A few began to take their queue from her admonishing glares and re-entered the singing orbit. By the fourth verse, the choir was back on board, but the song had definitely lost some of its spiritual punch.

The only person who didn’t notice the colorful leopard panties was Joe Dawson, who, to his credit, was focused on the hymnal and presumably, loftier thoughts in the divine realm, rather than the broad backside of Sandy’s robe. In all fairness, he was standing on the left side of the pulpit area and was more or less even with her, not allowing for a good viewing angle. Either way, we’ll give his virtuous nature the benefit of the doubt. Given what was about to happen, it might have been better if he had seen them.

Immediately following the hymn, Joe began the Prayer of Confession. With all eyes closed it gave Lilith an opportunity to hatch her plan. She had her cell phone with her and she knew that Sandy kept hers nearby at all times in case there was an emergency at the nursing home regarding her grandmother. During the prayer she began to text a message to Sandy. Cautiously, she held her phone down low and had typed as far as “You have panties on” when she realized she had accidentally selected the wrong recipient. In her attempt to change this she managed to hit the send button instead. She now stared at her phone in horror, dazed. The text had gone to Pastor Dawson.

When she looked up she realized Joe was staring at her. She had missed her queue to start the three-line Kyrie of “Lord have mercy upon us”. She regained herself and launched into it with a vengeance. Her panic had her riding an adrenaline rush and she played so up-tempo that the lowly dirge sounded more like a salsa.

As they finished the Kyrie, Joe was still standing behind the pulpit.  With a sense of terrible foreboding, Lilith awaited the inevitable ding. To her deep dread she noticed Joe subtly reaching through his robe pocket to discreetly retrieve his cell phone. At least, she thought, he had it on vibrate. Lilith was ever the optimist.

With his hand carefully hidden behind the pulpit, Joe gave a quick glance to his phone. Suddenly, his normally buoyant face melted to a look of wilted confusion. Understandably, it seemed a rather untimely moment to make a slight to his manhood. He cast a puzzled sideways glance toward Lilith who was now in a state of shock, frozen like a Popsicle.

Joe took a deep breath and proceeded. The scripture reading was from Psalm Forty-Two. But Joe had not completely gathered himself. The fact that he errantly said “As a deer panties for the water, so my soul panties for you, oh Lord,” was probably the first clue of this.

This perked up the congregation considerably. Quizzical glances shot around the room. Everyone leaned in, endeavoring to listen closer. This sermon had real promise.

The Pastor had stopped and was staring back at the crowd. But Joe Dawson was made of the right stuff. After a moment, he smiled, allowing the pause to serve as dramatic effect. He proceeded on and read the balance in his usual strong and assured delivery. Meanwhile, Lilith was thinking about the impending disaster as well as the possible need to update her resume.

She knew that at the end of the scripture reading, it would be time for the anthem. Sandy would be mounting the small podium and facing the choir with her backside and all its leopard panty glory facing the entire congregation. And with the cameras rolling, in truth, it would be much worse. Those panties would be facing the entire world. It would go viral on YouTube before Sunday lunch was over.

Joe finished. He turned and walked to his chair at the side of the pulpit, seated himself, and waited for Lilith to start the anthem music. As was her ritual, Sandy remained seated also, waiting for Lilith to start the prelude before rising and taking her place on the small stand before the choir. But Lilith couldn’t move. She was in a suspension of time and space, unable to bring her hands to the keyboard, gripped in a terrifying fear. Long moments passed. All eyes focused in her direction.

Then, the answer came to her.

It washed over her in a moment of pure inspiration, casting off the numbing bonds of fear and despair. She rose from the organ bench, walked to the pulpit, and spoke in a voice of radiant confidence.

“Members of the congregation, choir, and Pastor Dawson, today is a special day for us. It’s not often that we get visitors here in Watervalley; especially visitors who want to so generously document our long and cherished traditions of worship. It is a little out of the norm but I would like to pray for them and to offer thanks for the blessing of having them here.”

Then, Lilith took a step back from the pulpit and graciously looked from side to side. “Pastor Dawson and Sandy, if you would, please come and stand with me in a show of unity while I pray.”

Both moved hesitantly, but soon enough, they complied, taking their place beside her. Lilith began.

“With every head bowed and every eye closed, let us pray.”

She prayed a sweet and lengthy prayer for the entire film crew… the cameramen, the soundmen, and the producers. She prayed that God would bless their work and bless their lives and that their labors would strengthen the kingdom. Shielded behind the pulpit, she closed by saying these simple words.

“Lord, we know you are with us in the hills.” When saying this, she lifted her right hand high above her. “And lord, we know you walk with us through the valley.” Conversely, upon saying these words, she dropped her hand and bent down slightly. With one eye open she snatched those leopard panties from Sandy’s backside. She snatched them as if they were the embodiment of all the evil, all the doubt, all the cause of sin in this fallen world. She immediately stuffed them into the pocket of her choir robe and closed the prayer with a hearty “Praise the Lord. Amen.”

Lilith practically levitated back to the organ bench. The anthem came together beautifully and Joe preached a robust and moving sermon. After the service, members of the film crew sought Lilith out to personally thank her. They had filmed at over a dozen churches and yet this was the first time someone had prayed for them. They were deeply moved.

The congregation would never know it, but it was mutually agreed upon by the documentary crew that in the final cut, Watervalley First Presbyterian would be heralded as a place of light and hope and promise; a place where the age old liturgical worship still breathed new life into the humble souls gathered there.

It had been a traumatic day for Lilith, one that had challenged her longstanding status as a teetotaler. She was just glad it was over.

And while there will always be scoffers, and doubters, and retractors on the matter, for Lilith Warren, last Sunday’s service made one simple truth unassailable.

For Lilith, when life presents you with troubles and doubts and wayward panties, prayer is the answer.


I’m j. high, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the highpoint.

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