From Bonfire Dances to St. Nicholas Church

From Bonfire Dances to St. Nicholas Church

by Russell Richardson, member of St. Nicholas', Tahoe City

This article first appeared in the Sierra Sun.


While snowshoeing with my dogs, I found myself stopped and staring, thinking that such beauty--summer’s green and autumn’s crimson and gold under a blanket of downy white snow, punctuated by the girlies’ utter, existential joy, two days after wading around in shorts and Chacos--affirms (for me) the presence of a benevolent creator. Call it YHWH, God, Gaia, Allah, Earth Mother, Flying Spaghetti Monster, random chance, or what have you, whatever force rendered the necessities of biological functioning so spectacularly beautiful meant well for those of us fortunate enough to witness the splendor.

That thought was rapidly followed by the surprised realization that I’ve become a churchy person.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with churchgoing sorts, but I grew up here in Tahoe, nominally Christian and strongly suspect of anyone who would willingly embrace any aspect of Establishment, especially one with such a fraught history, when we’re here in God’s playground. How could it happen that someone who grew up worshiping in the Cathedral of the Wilds, danced in circles around bonfires, and was most recently a devout Theravada Buddhist came to spend 50 of the past 52 Sundays, and a score of midweek mornings and evenings, in church?

The question sat heavily for a few days. Then came the Twenty-somethingth Sunday of Pentecost: an absolutely unremarkable day in church. Ann was in the congregation, with Millie, Mike, and Mosey, her bulldogs, and Moogie the pet porcupine, as was long-absent parishioner crippled by a stroke, someone who fights through illness and addiction to make social engagements, a family that joined the congregation last spring, the stalwart (and wayward) regulars, and a small but glorious handful of new faces.

Nor was there anything spectacular about the service: Rev Jenni+ preached through pop culture links (who knew the Griswold’s vacation to Wallyworld had a place alongside the Gospel of Mark?). But afterward, after the singing and communion and hand-shaking and irreverent jazz music and rush for coffee and carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and and blueberry muffins, while I was putting away my tuba and the other members of Rev Jenni’s Musical Peanut Gallery were stashing their axes (a clarinet and a guitar), people abandoned the home-baked spread to figure out what it was they were seeing and hearing through the service.

Ann explained that porcupines don’t shoot quills but lose them at considerable discomfort, and they make wonderfully attentive and mellow pets, and her favorite food is strawberry leaves. I explained that I play a tuba, not a sousaphone or trombone or trumpet but an orchestral tuba, no the sousaphone is the big wraparound thing invented by John Philip Sousa because real tubas are hard to march with, and that tuba-guitar-clarinet is not the usual trio but it works when everyone’s heart is in it.

The newbies departed with many thanks, the sometimers (families who come enough not to be shocked) departed with thanks, the wayward regulars departed with thanks, and the stalwart core were left to clean up, pack up, and get everything in place for the next Sunday.

And then it clicked.

Here’s a wide swath of Tahoe folks actively looking to engage those around them with dignity and esteem. Here’s a chance to be embraced by people concentrating on your presence and support, not the baggage you bring. Here’s a chance for me to further my lifelong quest to spread the good news of the tuba: it’s not just for stooges anymore. And here’s a chance to come together with other people from all over with vastly different backgrounds and places in life, all of whom are looking to share and discover new paths to experience the divine not just once a week in church, but as fully as possible, every minute of every day while watching TV or wandering around Tahoe, this glorious corner of God’s green earth. To say nothing of some mean baking skills that make for a thoroughly delectable coffee hour, and the unspoken Episcopal mindset that there is no damnation for those willing to bring good food or drink to one of our numerous potlucks.

Who wouldn’t come back?

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