The acolyte

Rev. J. Vance Eastridge, 1998

“The child is father of the man;

And I could wish my days to be bound each to each by natural piety.”


I swallowed hard. My throat was tight. I swallowed again; dry swallows. I struggled to keep my eyes from misting.

He was walking down the aisle, leading everyone in procession into the chancel of the church. Dressed in a white surplice over a black cassock, son Brad, who had celebrated his eleventh birthday just a few weeks before, was taking on the responsibility of an acolyte for the first time. Followed by a crucifer lifting a processional cross, a Bible-bearer carrying the Bible to the lecturn, the chancel choir, and finally, the ministers of the church, Brad set the pace by which each would go to the proper station of worship. He led the way. In profound symbolism, he would light the candles on the altar.

It was a proud moment for me.

His brothers Wesley and Mike had served as acolytes at his age. Now, it was Brad.

Brad has reached the age at which the church says, “It is time to confirm the spiritual vows that were made on your behalf when you had first come into the world.” To intelligently consummate his covenant, he is receiving confirmation training. Next spring, He will kneel at the altar and affirm his spiritual life. It was such a short time ago that I carried him in my arms from the hospital nursery to our home. Just the two of us. He was only a few days old. I yearned for the time to come when his eyes could focus on me and I could tell him I was his father. At that time I held him securely in my arms as we walked under the canopied trees of autumn. I murmured words in his ears that had no meaning to him. Reaching home, I carried him into his room especially decorated with friends from the hundred-acre woods, Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. Here, at home, our journey as a family of three along with his brothers and sister was beginning.

A journey has many turns, many forks, and many stopping places. Yesterday as I watched Brad march ahead so confidently, nursing my own butterflies, I recalled other times when time grounded to a halt long enought to plant memories.

There are his laughing places.

Brad has comedic talent. He has unusually expansive sophisticated wit. He is a master at punning and innuendo, and loves slapstick. Each Saturday evening finds our household wound down for at least an hour for British humor on P.B.S.

It began at an early age. Long before he could talk, he amused his mother with high energy chuckles whenever she would rip a piece of paper. On one of his first visits to a shopping mall, still a toddler, he spotted a sign with bright red letters and began to laugh uncontrollably. Only when we moved him out of sight did he stop laughing. Passersby stopped to grin appreciatively. The secrets of his laughter would remain with him.

There are his silent places.

Brad has always been introspective; never more so than when we went driving. For hours, he would entertain himself by watching the landscape race by. Images would etch in his memory to be recalled at will. Silence became canvasses on which he would caricature life. Unusually gifted with artistic talent, Brad left a trail of scraps of paper or drawing pads filled with his interpretation of people and things. In each he managed to portray with wit. Not all his stopping places are places of silence. At all times, Brad is never at a loss for words.

There are his pauses.

As significant as his stopping places are his pauses. He pauses to tease the Muses. One such pause was to learn the proper way to hold a violin, to discover the narrow roadway on which the bow would see-saw, and to master the finger dances upon the strings whereby sounds would be turned into melodies. He came upon the symbol for ‘rest’ on the musical manuscript and took it too seriously. He put his violin to rest. He paused to fall in love with the guitar, and caressing it and strumming it until it yielded to his fingers, he set it aside. His excitement now is concentrated on his trumpet which he carries to school each day. His musical forays are reflective of his wide range of interests and gifts. Each of these pauses, in time, will become movements.

All journeys are marked by turns. Brad’s journey is no exception. His next big turn will probably be into teen-age land. That turn is not very far ahead, and with the rapidity by which his childhood has flown by, it will be even sooner.

Sunday morning was a reminder that Brad’s childhood is fading and young manhood is approaching. It was made more clear later in the day at a Cotillion at the Country Club. There, he ushered young ladies to their seats, offering them his arm, and later whirled them about on the ballroom dance floor.

The choked-up feeling at church was for me. Pride in who Brad is; poignancy for the disappearing of his childhood dependencies; and excitement about the person he is destined to become. All of this is too much to handle at once, and so, I content myself, for the moment, to burst with pride at the cherubic face of an acolyte on his way to light a candle.