There’s a church where Selam and I attend when I’m not supplying somewhere, and we’re not traveling. Unfortunately, this means we’re only there about half the time. It’s a church where people have belonged for generations and a lot of things aren’t put in writing, so we’re always a step behind, even if we are there.
So it was with the Christmas pageant. In the church newsletter, I read that kids who wanted speaking parts should sign up with the Sunday School Superintendent, and everyone else who wanted a non-speaking part should just come to a rehearsal. Since no ages were associated with the pageant, I assumed that Selam was too young. I wasn’t sure she’d do it even if she was old enough, anyway.
We were at church this morning and when I came downstairs to get her from Sunday School, she rushed up to me with a nativity that they had cut and pasted together. “There’s a BROWN angel, Mommy, just like me!!!!” She was exuberant. One of the other little girls told me that she was going to be an angel in the pageant. The teacher asked me if Selam was going to be in it, and I told her that I didn’t realize she was old enough, so we had not signed up. “Next year, we’ll be sure to do that,” I said as Selam spoke over me. “I’m going to be an angel, too. We NEED a brown angel and that’s me!!!”
The teachers encouraged me to ask the Sunday School Superintendent to let her participate. Mrs. Z. had, in fact, made an announcement in church that morning about there being room for some last minute additions, but again, I had assumed Selam was too young.
So we went to coffee hour and Selam was still quite insistent that she was going to be the brown angel in the pageant. I pointed out the superintendent and before I knew it, Selam had run over to her and told her that she wanted to be an angel. Mrs. Z. came over to me and asked if it was okay for Selam to be an angel, “the brown angel,” Selam corrected. I agreed and we ran upstairs to get a costume and a copy of the music—a little 4 line song. I agreed to iron the dress and teach her the song and the Last Minute Angel was born.
I should explain that this is not a church I would have chosen for our family. It’s way too white for my conscience, and a little more conservative than is my preference. Selam and I visited about 10 churches, seeking one that met my minimum requirements (reformed, less than a half hour away and no YDS interns) and hers (good coffee hour snacks). Selam picked this church, though. She called it the scissors church because it was the only one that we visited that had actual Sunday School for the 3 year olds, instead of just nursery. Mostly they were just cutting and pasting things and hearing stories, but it mattered to her. It still matters to her. She wants to feel like she’s doing something important. So we go there because Selam chose it. I figure with how many churches I drag her to for pulpit supply, she gets to choose our “home church,” even if she chooses a complexion that’s paler than hers. I appreciate the care with which they undertake Sunday School, and am overwhelmed at how a photo of three angels including one little brown one allowed my daughter to feel not just welcome but NECESSARY to the pageant.
So the last minute angel came home from church with a wrinkled dress and a song in her head. I tried to explain to her what would happen…about the shepherds and the kings and the baby Jesus. “I have the most important job, Mommy, I tell everybody that Jesus is born.”
When it was time for the pageant, we drove to the church and got her wings, halo and belt. She was RADIANT—so excited about her costume. She practiced flapping her wings for a while, then sat quietly in the pew and waited.
The pageant was hilarious and touching and wonderful, as they always are. There was a shepherd who was carrying a contraband legos toy, and another who tried to blow out the advent candles a dozen times at least. There were awkward adolescents reading the scripture, and blond angels twirling in circles. When Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger, a flock of angels sort of bum-rushed the child and nearly tipped over the manger. (Selam soberly reported afterward that she did not touch the manger or the baby. ) There was lots of waving at Mommy (including the Last Minute Angel). It was controlled chaos.
But there is a sweetness there, too, and something so profoundly moving about this tender and really rough story in the hands of bright eyed children with their legos and their shiny shoes. I know there are those that abhor the infantilizing of the story in pageants. I think it’s the most profound way that we can tell the children that “this is your story, too.” I particularly liked this church’s decision to hold it on a Sunday afternoon—not during morning worship, but at night for just the kids, their parents and handful of interested church members. It actually felt more worshipful this way.
After the pictures were taken and the halos and wings returned to their shelves, Selam and I walked hand-in-hand to the car. “You know how I was the angel, Mommy? I was very, very important. Because the angels have to tell everybody about the baby Jesus. And you NEED a brown angel, Mommy, and I’m the brown girl so I was the brown angel telling everybody about Jesus, Mommy. And I said, ‘Glory to God in the highest. Glory to God in the highest, Glory to God in the highest’ and all the people heard me singing and the shepherds fell down.”
As I strapped the Last Minute Angel into her carseat, she beckoned me close. Lately she loves whispering secrets. “Next year, when I am the angel, I’m going to really fly….”
We drove into the cold night, the white New England colonial spire rising behind us, Selam still singing sotto voce “Glory to God in the highest…”