The church was packed almost to capacity and the usher was escorting them to find three empty seats. As they were about to enter the pew, Minister Chance bumped into them.
“Oh, hello Nancy, Frankie and … Mathew–right?”
“Yes. Hello. You look troubled, is everything okay?” Tilden frowned at the look of anxiety on Chance’s face.
“Our solo singer for the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at the end of the service is relocating and couldn’t come today. I can’t find a replacement.”
Tilden looked at Collins and back to Chance. “You just need a lead singer? Matt is your man, Reverend. I’m sure he knows the Lord’s Prayer. He loves to sing.”
“Wait a minute. I can’t sing a solo in front of all these people. Even if I agree, shouldn’t we rehearse?”
“Mathew, it’s the Lord’s Prayer. Have you ever heard it sung before?” Chance asked.
“Yes, many times but I never sang to it.”
“Please Matt.” Tilden clutched his left arm. “Remember the River Walk. You did so well and it was spontaneous. You can do it.”
Collins felt cornered. “All right. We’ll talk about this after church. This one is a big I.O.U and I’m going to collect.”
“Thank you so much Mathew. Come with me. You’ll be with the choir.” Chance turned to Tilden. “I’ll return him after he sings. It’s the concluding piece on our program this morning.”
Collins was given a ruby-red robe matching the rest of the choir participants. Chance gave the choir members a simple introduction while Collins strained to see where Tilden and Frankie were seated but they were out of his line of sight. He stared at the songbook and focused on the music. He had learned to read music in college where he sang four years with the glee club. He looked at the congregation. There were so many faces of all ages. A few babies emitted transient wails and there was a low background of whispered prattle. Chance came back to him two-minutes before the service was to start.
“Mathew, we have a slight problem. The sound system is non-functional. The microphones don’t work. We can’t fix it. Can you try to project your voice a little louder than usual?”
Reverend Chance took his place at the pulpit and welcomed his parishioners. His voice carried well in the large space; however a microphone would have been better. Collins noticed several attendees already starting to yawn as Chance made several announcements including his name as soloist for the concluding Lord’s Prayer.
Collins had difficulty focusing on the sermon, which was entitled “The road less traveled”. Chance talked about service and the importance of volunteerism and self-sacrifice. Several hymns and prayers followed and the last item on the program was next. Collins looked out again as he raised the music and then put it down. He knew the Lord’s Prayer. He’d first recited it when he was four-years old. He remembered the copy of the Lord’s Prayer his mother gave him in the hospital. The music was easy. He inhaled deeply as Chance introduced this last offering to God. Collins heard a few voices of idle unintelligible chatter, a few coughs and sneezes and one baby crying. He looked up at the huge vaulted ceiling and felt his body inflating. He felt as if he was growing taller and looking down on the congregation not directly facing it. The words came.
His baritone voice filled the entire expanse of the church’s airspace.
Which art in Heaven
The organ music was like a wispy film in the background as Collins voice wrapped itself around every person. Complete silence prevailed between his musical phrases. All eyes were looking at him. He still felt as if he were looking down at them.
Hallowed be Thy name
Thy Kingdom come
The two accentuated words reached every corner and crevice.
Thy will be done in Earth,
The phrase seemed to float as Collins’ tones became ethereal.
As it is in heaven
His voice boomed and vibrated with each “Thy”. He could feel the words as they came from him like he could feel thunder. The congregation looked up at the ceiling now and kept their gaze toward the heavens. There were no bowed heads. Collins delivered each word and phrase with feeling and meaning and delivered the concluding affirmation.
For Thine is the kingdom and the glory and the power
Collins paused for two seconds.
For ever and ever,………… Amen…………………….
The “Amen” hung like a floating vapor for several seconds which seemed like minutes. Collins felt his body deflating. He felt like he was descending from a lofty height and now assumed a stance at eye level with the congregation. Silence hovered as they all moved their line of vision from the ceiling to each other. No one spoke. Babies were not heard. Reverend Chance and the three other participants from the stage filed out and took their places of greeting at the church exit. The people began leaving and passing the reception line. No one spoke until they were met by Reverend Chance.
“Did you enjoy the service?” Chance broke the muted aura as a husband and wife reached him.
“Yes.” They said in unison.
They sounded solemn or frightened. Chance couldn’t tell which feeling prevailed. Very few church members smiled and when they did, the smile looked forced. He reached out to one of the last parishioners.
“Mrs. Nathaniel, how did you feel during the service?” Chance put his hand on her forearm.
“During the Lord’s Prayer, I thought I was talking directly to God through the soloist. I felt God was here. I felt God was listening.”
Chance released his hand and watched as the last three people came up to him. Collins trailed behind Tilden and Frankie.
“Mathew that was amazing. Your voice filled this great hall. A microphone would not have done it justice.”
“It was just The Lord’s Prayer, Reverend.” Collins shook the offered hand.
“Today it seemed different. When you were singing I felt the words. I didn’t merely hear them or say them silently along with your delivery.”
Collins looked at Tilden and Frankie and back to Chance. “I don’t know what to say. Well, we’ll see you next time.”
They remained silent until they got into the Saturn and Tilden turned to him. “Matt, I was genuinely touched by your singing. No, touched isn’t the right word. I had a spiritual experience. I think every time I hear or say The Lord’s Prayer, I’ll hear you singing it again and feel closer to God.”
“It was just The Lord’s Prayer.” Collins didn’t want his relationship with them to be strained. He looked at Frankie in the back seat. “Frankie, how many times have you heard The Lord’s Prayer sung?”
“Hundreds, it seems.” He leaned forward toward the driver’s seat. “But never like you did it. I seemed to hear the words better and understand what they mean.”
“Well it’s lunch time and what does the word IHOP mean?” Collins looked at both.
“International House of Pancakes. Right on Matt. Yeah, cool, I’m starved.” Frankie brightened.
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