At the Inlet: September, Part 1 (A Surprise Family)

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The turn of the month was framed by two weighty events: a tropical storm on the windward side which had about the same effect as the hurricane a few weeks earlier, and on the lee side Terry’s birthday.  Since it was a milestone, Terry regarded its coming about as positively as she did the tropical storm.

Annette and Darlene extended birthday wishes during their Bible study, but that was about it.  Darlene didn’t mention it further during their work.  About 1545 Darlene suddenly announced that their workday was at an end, that she should go see Julian before Evening Prayer.  Terry was mystified by this quick dismissal but had learned to let things ride in this place, so she did as she was bid and went over to the Cathedral.

When she got there, Julian was up in the choir rehearsal room giving private piano lessons.  He taught a limited number of students to supplement his meagre income from the Cathedral.  Terry quietly came in and sat down as he was winding up an initial lesson to a young boy who was with his younger sister and mother.  The mother was Chinese, her children mostly so.  As they were changing children on the piano bench, Julian stopped and introduced them to Terry.

“This is Jasmine Liu,” Julian said, introducing the mother, “and these are Eric and Katherine.”  The children bowed slightly at Terry.  “This is their first lesson here—they’ve just moved from the mainland.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jasmine said.  “My husband is an engineer.  He has just starting with Serelian government—first engineer in the country,” she noted proudly.  His father, mother and grandmother are here—they were retired, but they are now opening a restaurant.”

“A pleasure—your children are adorable,” Terry said.

“Thank you,” Jasmine replied.  This whole scene threw more questions at Terry than she could easily process.  Why didn’t someone tell me that Chinese people were coming to Serelia?  Why hadn’t I seen the charter application for her restaurant?  Why didn’t I know who the engineer on this sewage treatment project was?  Why does her name sound familiar?

These questions were shoved aside when Katherine started her lesson.  She went over to the bench, crawled up, and began to play a Bach piece, her last audition piece.  Terry was blown away by the professionalism of this six-year old as she sat in awe through the performance.  Even Julian couldn’t conceal his shock from the quality of this little concert, even though he related later he had just seen a similar one out of Eric.  Julian then spent much of the rest of the lesson setting up her curriculum and digging through what he had and what Eric had been using, as getting music pedagogy materials in Serelia wasn’t a simple matter.

“What is your profession?” Terry asked Jasmine, as the lesson was wrapping up.

“I was a music major,” Jasmine replied.  “I gave private lessons before moving here.  But Reverend Lewis’ has great reputation as organist and music teacher.  Perhaps I will teach later.”

“We went to the same school,” Julian interjected.  “Obviously at different times.”

“When does your husband’s parents’ restaurant open?  I haven’t eaten Chinese food in years.  My grandmother is Chinese.”

Jasmine lit up.  “It opens tomorrow, but for you and Reverend Lewis, you can come by this evening.  When can you come?”

“About 1900,” Julian replied.

“We will see you then,” Jasmine confirmed, and with that, took one child in each hand and left.

Terry came over to Julian, and they embraced and kissed.  “Now let’s see what you can do on the piano,” Julian said.

“Oh, no, not after that,” Terry replied, backing up a step.

“Please, Terry—what happens is between ourselves.  Really,” he said.

Terry thought for a minute, and then said, “All right, but just for a minute.”  She sat down at the piano; Julian could tell she was tensing up as she faced the keyboard.  Julian sat down in his teaching chair.  She rolled through her mind her last audition pieces, then tried to plough into one.  Her plough got stuck; the result wasn’t very melodious and she ground to a halt.

“I can’t!” she exclaimed in frustration.

Julian reached over to her left arm  “If you can survive this”—he pointed to the drug scars on her lower arm—“and this”—he pointed to the war wound on her upper arm—“then you can master this.”  He placed his hand gently on the keyboard.

“God brought me through that,” Terry said.

“I’m not aware that God has changed since our war was concluded,” Julian calmly asserted.  Terry looked at her love with a combination of anger and fright, but both were subsiding.  “Now let’s see where we can begin,” he said, gently repositioning her fingers on the keyboard.

This lesson, however, did not last long; Julian had to prepare for Evening Prayer, which Terry spent beside him on the organ, as was her custom.  After that they walked down past the Inn to the restaurant.

They entered the restaurant.  The sign on the front proclaimed the “Tian Guo Chinese Restaurant.”  It was dark inside; Terry couldn’t see a thing with her eyes unadjusted from the light.  Suddenly she heard a cry from somewhere in the room: “My baby!”  It was Ling Shu-Yi, her grandmother.  Terry gasped, then ran over and gave her a tearful embrace.  “I never thought I would see you again,” Shu-Yi said through the sobs.

“Neither did I,” Terry agreed.  After some time Shu-Yi reintroduced Terry to her relatives: Terry’s aunt Evelyn and her husband Victor Liu, their son Paul Liu and of course his wife Jasmine and the children.  Terry felt a void in her life being filled when a familiar voice came from behind.

“Happy birthday!” exclaimed George, and with him not only Darlene but Adam and Annette as well.  It suddenly hit Terry that the royal family had not only planned a surprise birthday party for her; they had kept secret the entry of her Chinese relatives as well.

The party was a blast; Adam and Annette had never eaten Chinese food before, so they were in for a treat.  There was a lot to catch up on; Terry hadn’t seen her grandmother or aunt on her father’s side since her father had died.

“Why did you pick Serelia?” Terry asked Paul.  “This is a very remote place for someone living on the mainland.”

“It was my mother,” Evelyn answered.  “She has wanted to see you for years.  After your brother was killed, she said she could not bear the thought of dying without seeing you, or perhaps living near you again.  She made our lives miserable for this.”

“I had done work in Alemara for my old firm,” Paul added.  “They told me about this position.  Not only did my grandmother persist, but also I wanted to raise my children in a good place.  I hear that people are filial here.”

“They are that,” Terry agreed.

The Chinese also got a chance to meet Julian; they did not pass up the opportunity to work on moving things forward with Terry.

After dinner the Chinese gave them yet another treat: a concert on traditional Chinese instruments, which was a strong family tradition of the Liu’s.  As a musician, Julian was fascinated by the instruments and the music.  Much of what they played was sad; as they sat and listened, the sadness of their own Island experience came up, and, like the Chinese official of old, they found themselves moistening whatever they could dry their eyes with.  The music also drew a crowd outside, none of whom had heard such playing before.

It was a hard departure; the royals did it first.  Before she left, Annette could not resist the obvious question for Shu-Yi: when could she come to the palace for a game of mah-jongg?  She quickly found she had more than one new opponent.  As Julian and Terry were about to leave, Victor had one more request for Terry.

“When we start in new building,” he began, “we like to consult with feng shui expert for most auspicious layout.  But Miss Ling says that we don’t need feng shui here.  She says that, if you pray for this restaurant, we won’t have any problems.  Since she is oldest among us, we listened to her.”  Terry looked at her grandmother wide eyed; Shu-Yi grinned back.

“Very well,” Terry responded.  She got out her anointing oil and anointed the building the same way she had the study where she did her work with Darlene.  Julian, Jasmine and Shu-Yi joined in.  Once this task was done they made their farewells and returned to their homes.

The next day it was back to work for Terry and Darlene. They had gotten far enough and processed enough applications so that they could do two things.  One was propose to the King a more systematic method of dealing with minor charters so as not to bog down the royals when they could be dealing with the more important matters.  The second was to hear appeals of the charters where the results did not please those making application.  It was decided that George and Darlene would hear most of these together; the King reserved a few for himself.  This still involved Terry and Darlene getting the appeals ready for the hearing.

Before all that was Bible study. Annette came and she was almost as excited about the new arrivals as Terry was.  But she had things other than immigrants and charters on her mind.

“I think I’ve about heard enough of the Canon’s snide remarks about Pentecostals from the pulpit,” Annette began.  “He’s been making them every Sunday since you returned from Julian’s tour.”

“So have I,” Darlene agreed.  “That’s why I told him last Sunday he should keep his opinions of royal appointments to himself.”

“That was rather abrupt,” Annette observed.

“We all know who he’s aiming at,” Darlene said.

“So what was George’s reaction to that—Desmond is his friend,” Terry asked.

“He’s said very little,” Darlene replied.

“It may be just ‘mother’s instinct,’ but I think my son’s enthusiasm for the Canon has cooled of late.”  She took a sip of her coffee.  “But that leads me to a question for you, Terry.”

“And what is that?”

“Your old church is very conservative in many ways, isn’t it?”  Annette asked.

“I think the proper term is ‘fundamental,’” Terry answered.  “Our teachings state the we believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, ‘rightly divided.’  That’s an old phrase to mean when it is properly interpreted.”

“It certainly has some very restrictive ideas about apparel,” Darlene observed.

“But that’s the problem,” Annette said.  “Your church is conservative in ways ours isn’t, and yet your church ordains women.  Ours doesn’t.  Why is that?”

Terry sat and thought for a minute, then began.  “Julian has asked me the same question.  I guess the best way to answer it is to go back and explain how I was ordained in the first place.

“Father Avalon was preparing me to be a lay minister—a youth pastor, a lay theologian, or something along those lines.  Those were the best he could hope for, since the Catholic Church, like this one, doesn’t ordain women.  I think he wanted to eventually send me to the parish in Alemara, but he was sidetracked.”

“By what?” Darlene asked.

“When the Retreat was started, there were actually two groups of people—the students like me, and the adults, who were in a prayer group he led.  Once we got to the retreat, there was a great deal of conflict between the two, which almost sank the whole adventure.  The adults ended up moving away from the Retreat, either to Alemara, the mainland, or in a couple of cases back to Verecunda.  Unfortunately they also financed the purchase of the Retreat, so for many years they kept their influence.  One of the more influential couples was Steve Eck’s parents.  Steve wanted to become a priest, and his parents very much wanted to see this, but we had dated off and on.  His parents were afraid I would romance him to marry me and end his priesthood before it started.”

“Given recent events, a justifiable fear,” Annette observed.  They all laughed at that observation.

“They were even afraid I would seduce him if I were to have a position in a parish with him when he returned to the Island.  They tried to accuse me of mishandling the money, but they couldn’t make that stick.  Then they convinced Father Jim to send me to Cresca, figuring I would either fail, or be arrested by Serelian authorities, or marry.  To make sure one of these happened, they cut off support after I got there.”

“So you were abandoned—just like you were in Barlin after the war,” Darlene said.

“More or less,” Terry agreed.  “Once I made my decision, I had no problem working for the church in Cresca.  But then it finally sunk in that, when Martin Lindell said that he was ‘setting me forth in the ministry,’ he meant ordaining me.  I was in shock; my first question was, ‘How can you ordain women given all of the scriptures to the contrary in the New Testament?’”

“And what did he say?” Annette asked, eagerly.

“‘We’ve always done it that way!’” Terry replied, the room bursting out with laughter.

“It’s the Serelian way,” Darlene observed.

“Seriously, he explained that, since the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in places such as Topeka, Azusa Street and Camp Creek, women had always been ministers.  In what was then the Crescan Pentecostal Fellowship, women neither served as superintendents nor voted at the camp meeting, although I ended up for a time as provisional superintendent when the Barlin District was created.  Other than those restrictions women were permitted to pastor, evangelise and even marry people, and I did plenty of all of that.

“Although I went ahead and was ordained, that didn’t settle the Biblical issues that I had.  So I did some research, talked with people in the church, and prayed about it.  This in brief was the position of our church on the matter.

“First, women in ministry are not viable without the Pentecostal experience.  On the first day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel in saying that ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy.’  Now prophecy is a very high gift of God; it is one of the sign gifts, along with healing, miracles, and the like.

“Second, it was God’s intent at the start for men and women to be equal partners; it was only our first mother’s cupidity that got us into trouble.  Jesus Christ came as the last Adam to undo the mistake of the first; that’s what Christianity is all about.

“Third, women held positions of leadership—deacons, and apostles, depending on interpretation—in the age of the apostles. This was shunted aside in later years for two reasons.  The first were due to the mistakes of the women themselves.  The second was due to the demands of respectability, which ran against women in authority in the Roman world.”

“The Serelian world isn’t much different in that regard,” Annette wistfully observed.  “This war has done more than anything else to change that.”

“But in my opinion the most important ingredient for successful ministry by women is the whole concept of servant leadership.  I found it distasteful enough that men used Diotrophes—who always loved the pre-eminence—as their role model in ministry, but with a woman such behaviour is a real disaster.”  Terry turned to Darlene.  “Look at yourself—the way you got your people on the estate to follow you is to stay up with Althea’s daughter all night.”

“It was a reflex,” Darlene confessed.  “I couldn’t help but stick with her.  It wasn’t the last thing either—I helped their children with their homework and stuck up for them in a wide variety of ways.”

“But they made running the estate a lot easier,” Terry observed.  “That’s the way a woman especially can have a successful ministry.”

“And that brings something else to mind,” Annette interjected.  “Don’t Pentecostal churches do foot washing, like Our Lord did on Maundy Thursday?”

“They do,” Terry replied, a little surprised by the question.

“So how did that work?” Darlene asked.

“We did it during a church service.  We would gather the men in one place and the women in another, get basins of water—we always liked to use washtubs in Barlin—and everyone would wash everyone else’s feet.  We had some very moving times together during foot washing—it’s considered on par with baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Drahlan church.”

Annette and Darlene looked at each other, and then Darlene reached over and pressed the button that summoned Althea.  Althea came in promptly, bowed and said, “Yes, Your Highness?”

“I need you to bring a pitcher of water and a wash basin,” Darlene ordered.

“And ask Lydia to come and do likewise,” Annette added.

“Don’t forget the towel,” Terry threw in.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Althea said, and, bowing, left.  She returned with the pitcher, wash basin and Annette’s lady-in-waiting Lydia in a few minutes.

“And what does Your Majesty require?” Lydia asked very formally.

“We’re having a foot washing ceremony here—and we request that both of you stay for it.”  Lydia looked at her mistress with a look of sheer horror—she had been in Pentecostal churches most of her life and knew what was about to happen.  Althea was too Anglican to know any better.

“Your Majesty,” Lydia finally choked out, “I have never been at a foot washing with royalty before.  I am to bow to you—how can you wash my feet?”

“Why don’t you stick your feet in the water and find out for yourself?” Darlene finally asked, matter-of-factly.

“So how does this work?” Althea asked, still a little mystified at the whole process.  With that, Terry gave them a little instruction and then they set themselves up for washing feet.

The washbasins of the palace were an improvement over the galvanised washtubs of Barlin, but the Spirit was the same.  Those that could speak in tongues did, and it was especially emotional when the Queen, none too agile, got down and washed her lady-in-waiting’s feet along with everyone else’s.  The women alternated between washing feet and praising God for a good part of the morning, and it was difficult to get back to any kind of routine after that.

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