By some ancient arrangement, the entire town of Turtle Lake knew that in the event of a blizzard—October through April—First Church would always have services, no matter what the size of the drifts. The church's central location, people claimed, would allow the hardy and fervent from all congregations to plow through the banks to sanctuary at this one house of worship.
As everyone knows, the worst storms come in early spring, when the ferocious tip of winter's long snake dance finally whips itself out. So it was, on a March Sunday. The radio announced the cancellations and reminded Turtle Lakers that First Church, downtown, would hold worship for those who could trudge in.
Abe Carpenter, First Church's janitor, switched off his radio and pulled on his overshoes, knowing full well that a four-foot drift would scale the front steps of the church, just the way it always did, and knowing just as certainly that his trusty Toro would pop on the second pull and help him clear the way for the faithful. Margaret Carpenter gave thanks from the window that morning, once her husband closed the door behind him and disappeared into the swirls—and she didn't forget to thank Him for the snowblower.
After Abe had finished the sidewalks, he looked up to see a dim sun glow like an old dime through the heavy clouds; and by the time he'd scooped the long front steps, the snarling spring storm had simply packed its bags and left. The clean sky glistened. Abe shook his head; these days, he thought, people simply called things off too easily. No more pioneer spirit.
Once the sun came out, a crazy thing happened. People came to First Church from all over, most of them anxious to get out. An extra hundred or so would have been just fine, Abe figured, except that it happened to be a communion Sunday and First Church simply didn't have enough bread and wine to go around, its own numbers declining in recent years.
Only three elders were gathered around the table downstairs when Abe dropped in, slipped off his mittens, and told them they were in deep trouble.
"How so?" Benny Lyftogt said.
"You got more people than you can shake a stick at up there," Abe told him. "Unless you got five loaves and two fishes, you're in trouble."
"If we haven't got the goods," Benny said, just like that, "we better call off communion."
The youthful Rev. Iderwish wasn't so sure. He rather liked the idea of serving communion to a large group for once. "What about all the bread we've already cut up? We've got four trays full of wine all poured out."
"Not enough," Abe said, "not by a long shot."
"Got any extra?" Benny asked.
Abe shrugged his shoulders. "No wine," he said, "but we got Kool-Aid—from fellowship time."
"From fellowship—sure, thaf s perfect," Iderwish said quickly, before Benny could get in something about green sugar water not really being wine. "What about bread?"
"Who's going to mix up the Kool-Aid?" Benny asked. "We ain't got the time."
From the basement, the heavy thumping of boots on the rugs just inside the door sounded like a stampede.
"We got anything we can use for bread?" Iderwish persisted.
"The young people made subs last night—a fund-raiser," Herb Klein said. "My kid was here. But they froze them when the storm came. Couldn't deliver a thing."
"Submarine sandwiches?" Benny said. "Shoot, submarine sandwiches for communion bread? What have we come to here?"
"They're frozen," Iderwish said. "We'd have to cut them up frozen."
Benny put both hands on the table. "I say we just make an announcement that only First Church people can partake—we only got so much to go around."
"Is that a motion?" his friend Frank Liebolt asked.
"This isn't a meeting," Iderwish said. "We aren't taking minutes here." He put his hand up to his head, as if he had a migraine. "Abe, maybe you can pick some up somewhere—"
"Nothing's open, Reverend," Benny said.
"We got to think of something," the preacher said.
"We don't have the time," Liebolt pointed out. "We'd better just cancel the sacrament today."
Abe had reminded Margaret of communion on Tuesday, and she'd talked about it herself just last night. The Lord's Supper, he thought—you just don't call it off like a family picnic.
"Maybe you're right," Iderwish said. "We can't pick and choose. Maybe we don't have a choice."
Abe stood at the doorway rolling his eyes. What about people who'd prayed about it, who'd thought about it? My word, he thought, last week they had even read the preparatory meditation.
"Time to go up," Benny said.
After prayer, all four men filed past him, out the door and up the stairs, Iderwish last, pulling on his ear as if he were struggling to come up with a solution.
In twenty-five years Abe Carpenter had sprinkled a ton of cleanser on First Church sinks. He'd vacuumed rugs, swept walks, Lysoled toilets. He'd shooed leaves out of gutters, blown snow off sidewalks, and dusted ceiling lights from an old ladder no man his age should have climbed. He'd clipped grass, pulled dandelions, and rubbed wood finish into the oak pulpit until his wrists swelled. He cared for that church.
The sanctuary was full of bundled-up people, the rug at the door a perfect mess. But Abe didn't think about that. He was thinking about communion, because this was communion Sunday—come hail, high water, or forty-foot drifts.
So once the service began he pulled Margaret out of the pew where they always sat and took her back to the kitchen.
"We can do it," he said. "I don't care if we're not elders or nothing. We can sure enough do something here."
Margaret had no idea what was going on. "I'm missing the service," she said.
"We got to have more elements," he said. "You saw all the people out there. We got to do something."
So during the confession and assurance, Ben and Margaret mixed up a batch of lime Kool-Aid and found a ton of extra little glasses tucked away in a box in a cupboard above the oven, extras from the time when the church was bigger. They poured green punch into every one of those cups, then set them each into the little holes Abe had punched into the side of the box the big coffee urn had come in.
"Can we make bread?" he asked when he heard the people singing again after the long prayer.
"Men!" she said. "In twenty minutes?"
"What can we use?" he said. "You're the cook around here."
"You're the one with the big plans," she reminded him.
Abe poked in the freezer and found the sandwiches just like Frank said. They were solid bricks.
"Don't be silly," Margaret said.
"At least help me look," he said, and together they searched every cupboard. "We've got to find something," he said. "You don't just call off the Lord's Supper."
Abe and Margaret turned the cupboards inside out, discovering a half bag of flour and an old box of sugar cubes, dozens of cupcake papers, six five-pound cans of coffee, cream substitute, some chocolate chips wound up in an old bag, and an open box of baking soda. Margaret said it would take a magician to make anything out of that.
"But there is one thing," she added, when she saw her husband slouching towards depression. "While you were out shoveling, I got to thinking how we just might need cookies. I pulled a Tupperware tub out of my freezer. You know—for fellowship— fellowship cookies."
"Fellowship cookies?" he said.
"You know—for after the service," she said. "I figured maybe—"
"They'll do, Margaret," Abe said. I'm sure they'll do."
"I left them above the coat rack."
All during the sermon, Abe and Margaret broke up the oatmeal and raisin cookies she'd thoughtfully carried along, just in case. She'd seen the sun, she told him, and she'd thought that maybe people would stay.
"There's one thing here," Margaret said when they were finishing up. "I meant these for fellowship, you know."
Abe looked up into her clear eyes, like the sky after a storm. "Margaret," he said, "you think about it. Thaf s exactly what you got here—fellowship."
After he finished the post-sermon prayer, Iderwish raised his head, tightened his lips, and motioned toward the silver communion service perfectly prepared on the table to his right. "Because of the unexpected size of the crowd," he said, "we have decided that—"
And just at that moment, the Carpenters marched up the center aisle, stopping Iderwish mid-sentence. A church full of neighbors craned their necks from all quarters to see Abe, shirtsleeves rolled, carrying two Corning Ware baking dishes, lids on, filled with chunks of fellowship cookies. Margaret walked beside him, her long arms wrapped around a yard-square piece of cardboard peppered with communion glasses full of green juice.
Iderwish himself stood dumbfounded. Benny Lyftogt jerked his head around and pulled up his nose.
"Fellowship, Reverend," Abe said when the two of them reached the front. "We just raided the fellowship goodies here. After all," he said, "Isn't it fellowship what we're about to do?"
"Fellowship," the young pastor said, jerking the cord of his mike over towards the Lord's table, "fellowship, sure."