Early in his career as Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church, Pastor Bucky was given the task of preparing the ashes for Ash Wednesday, a holy day which marks the beginning of Lent. He accepted the job without knowing much about how to carry it out.
All he knew was that the ashes were made of palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday worship. He knew this because shortly after they had their staff meeting, the Lead Pastor said, “Go find Frank. He can tell you where last year’s palm fronds are stored.”
One problem occurred to Pastor Bucky as he went off in search of Frank Goldman, the cranky, soon-to-be-retired church custodian. The issue was that Ash Wednesday fell early that year, and they were experiencing a rather vicious February cold snap. If at all possible, Pastor Bucky decided, he would like to find a way to burn the fronds indoors.
When he finally found Frank in the parking lot outside, taking down license plate numbers for the tow truck, Pastor Bucky asked him where the palm fronds were and also if there was any place indoors that could be used to burn them.
“Oh, you’ve got that job, have ya? I wondered who they’d have do it this year since I took it off my to do list. I guess you’re the low man on the totem pole, eh?
“Back when I was stuck with that job, I used to do it in the boiler room. It’s sealed off pretty well from the rest of the church, but it has a small window to the outside, and it’s hot enough in there that you won’t mind opening the window even on a day like this.”
Pastor Bucky took Frank’s advice—and his palm fronds once Frank was done talking to the towing company—then headed home to change clothes and grab his little Weber grill.
Once he was all set up in the boiler room, Pastor Bucky built a little mound out of crumpled palm fronds and attempted to light it with a long wooden match. The leaves didn’t catch, but they sure did produce a lot of smoke.
After several unsuccessful attempts, Pastor Bucky decided to cheat by breaking out some newspaper and a couple fire-starter sticks he had pulled out of his camping gear just in case. The combination worked like a charm, but as the leaves began to burn, Pastor Bucky wondered if it was perhaps improper to mix other ashes with the palm ashes that would be used in worship. There were funny rules about these things, and he was no expert on all of them.
Having no good way to sort out the ashes now that everything was burning together, Pastor Bucky decided to just keep this question to himself.
In spite of that decision, by the time he was done making ashes, the guilt of a potentially fraudulent Ash Wednesday service (which was itself a ceremony of penitence) began to weigh more heavily on him. That combined with the oppressive heat of the boiler room was enough to make Pastor Bucky fairly miserable. He decided to leave the ashes to cool and step out for some fresh air.
When he opened the door, he was shocked to be standing face to face with Marjorie Stevens, the most meddlesome church busybody he had ever encountered. If anyone was going to sniff out a lie, it was Marjorie Stevens! Pastor Bucky braced for an inquiry into his shady misbehavior.
But Mrs. Stevens seemed even more surprised and worried to see Pastor Bucky than he was to see her. Her eyes bulged, and after muttering a quick, “Oh! Hello, Reverend Green. I’m so sorry, but I must be going,” she turned and exited the building.
Puzzled but relieved to be rid of her, Pastor Bucky waited a moment, then exited through another door. He was still so warm that he didn’t even bring his coat.
Fifteen minutes later, unbeknownst to Pastor Bucky who was back in the boiler room, the police arrived and asked to speak right away with Reverend Buchanan Green. They had received an anonymous tip that the young clergyman appeared to be smoking large quantities of marijuana inside the church!
What followed was a rather tense scene that ended with the Lead Pastor leading two officers to the boiler room. When the police flung open the door, a terrified Pastor Buck immediately placed his hands over his head and confessed to having mixed profane ashes into the palm fronds.
After some rather confused conversation, the Lead Pastor decided to pay a visit to Marjorie Stevens and get to the bottom of the situation.
It turned out that Mrs. Stevens had been watching a television special the night before all about Mardi Gras as the holiday approached. While she generally didn’t approves of such lewd revelry, she was even more abhorred to learn about an annual event in Australia called Mardi Grass (note the second s), which was a protest for the legalization of marijuana. The TV even showed blurred images of naked, drug-crazed men and women painted up like green cannabis plants marching down the street.
Then, as if she wasn’t in enough of a tizzy already, Mrs. Stevens was absolutely flabbergasted when the newscaster cheerfully reported that a movement had begun to hold similar events throughout the United States the following Tuesday. The demonstrators vowed to celebrate nature’s gifts and “fight the government’s prohibition.”
The world finally came crashing down when she approached the church to talk to her pastor about this travesty, and from a block away she could smell the tell-tale scent of burning leaves wafting out of the church window. She knew the church as well as anyone, and with the fury of the self-righteous, she stormed inside and went straight to the boiler room.
It was a crushing blow then to see the young, seemingly innocent Reverend Green open the boiler room door with a surprised look of obvious guilt on his face. What had this world come to? Mrs. Stevens shuffled out to her car, and went home to call the police.
When all was said and done, the Lead Pastor went back to his office, grumbling to himself something about “Mrs. Stevens wasting another of my afternoons,” and no one seemed to care that Pastor Bucky had profaned the ashes. (“Heck, I usually just douse ‘em in lighter fluid and torch the suckers,” commented Frank.)Like this? Click to subscribe!