A Ladder, A Lift, Lights, and Wisdom by Bill Pike


On Monday, December 3, Joe Andrews, Bill Burch, and Joe Toler arrived at our church around 9:00 a.m. For almost three years, this group of volunteers with an occasional sprinkle of others have been showing up to do chores for the church.

Bill Burch is the leader. Two Mondays per month, minus the summer, these talented, dedicated gentlemen come to their church, and work on a list of assignments that we need completed. Over the years, they have had some challenging chores. They have never backed away from anything. But on December 3, I think I pushed them.

This list for Monday read as follows:  Sanctuary lights, Welcome Center lights, and Chrismon tree.

To gain access to all of the lights, we were going to use an extension ladder and an antique electric lift. 

Although made of aluminum, the extension ladder is commercial grade. It is heavy, cumbersome to carry, and challenging to stage.

The old lift runs off a battery charge. It is like a tank in terms of construction. Minus the wood platform in the crow’s nest, the lift is all heavy duty metal framing. Moving it around sometimes requires two people. With a bit of coaxing, the lift can be fit on to an elevator, but it reminds me of trying to lead a stubborn horse into a singular stall.

First, we staged the ladder in the chancel area of the Sanctuary. Bill, Joe Toler, and I gathered up the ladder from the outside cooling tower. We walked it through the parking lot, across sidewalks, and up sets of steps. 

Once in the Sanctuary, we made one interesting turn so we could walk it down the main aisle up to the Chancel. At that point, the brains of Mr. Toler and Mr. Burch took over for figuring out how the ladder would be staged. Really what they were focused on was how we would position and raise the ladder without killing ourselves and damaging the church.

The real key was this simple measure—we slowed down. No step, no maneuver, no tilt, no lifting was done without each of us being in sync, and we moved liked turtles. Because of this, we reached a reasonable access point without a challenge.

With the ladder safely positioned, I climbed up to take a look at the light tube needs. Immediately, I saw a number of non-burning tubes.  My stock was limited as these tubes are old and difficult to find from electrical supply houses.

From that first look, we devised a way to use our new tubes to eliminate the visible dark spots. Joe and Bill traded off handing me tubes on the ladder. We fixed one area, and then we had to re-position the ladder. Once again, we moved like turtles, but we transitioned to the next spot without damage or a casualty.

While working at this next spot, Bill Burch and Joe Andrews peeled off to start bringing the lift to the Sanctuary. In a couple of spots where we needed to be, the lift was our only option.

IMG_1848I know it took some coaxing, but soon they returned with the lift. We worked to position the lift, and Joe Andrews took the ride up to assess. In both spots, we were able to make lighting improvements without harm to the building or us.

In the Welcome Center, a smaller extension ladder was used. On one wall is a large stained glass piece that was once in place as a window.  Now this former window is mounted on a wall with masterful wood trim work framing it, and the beautiful stained glass is back lit. 

IMG_1852Somewhere behind the stained glass, lighting had failed. The stained glass was not fully illuminated.

Bill Burch figured out how to open the two access panels on both sides. Once he removed those, Bill saw four tube lights. Two had failed. 

I took one of the failed tubes and drove to our neighborhood hardware store looking for a replacement. Of course, they had similar tubes, but not the exact size. Then I drove to the closest electrical supply company. Struck out there too. Turns out this was a unique tube that could only be special ordered.

While I was away, the two Joes assembled the Chrismon tree in the Sanctuary.  According to the United Methodist Church website here is a brief history of the origin of the Chrismon:

Ornaments made from Christian symbols (or Chrismons, a contraction for ‘Christ monograms’) were first developed by Frances Spencer and the women of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia. Many churches display a Chrismon tree during the Advent and Christmas season decorated with handmade ornaments.

Thanks to the Joes,  the sometime cantankerous tree was now ready to be decorated on Wednesday afternoon.

Gradually, we worked to return the ladders and lift to their storage areas. Noon had arrived quickly. Time for our crew to head home.

I often lose perspective on the things that take place behind the scenes for the good of the cause. The pace of life today is so fast, I wonder if our congregation knows all the details it takes to put the pieces of the Advent season together.

I learned so much from Joe, Bill, and Joe today. I hope some of their wisdom rubs off on me.

Little things like flipping a light tube to stop it from flickering. Slowing down my steps to safely position a ladder, and the value of teamwork.

Somehow, there is even teamwork in the Christmas story. 

Mary and Joseph managed to find trust in each other and God. They were a team.

While the detail appears to have been small, someone provided a bit of shelter for Mary, Joseph, and their new son. This person was on the team.

After shaking off being significantly startled  by an angel in the dark of night way out in an isolated pasture, those shepherds became a part of the team.

Although I have been an imperfect teammate, in my 65 years of living, the Christmas story has always been a part of my life.

Why is that?

Well, there are lots of potential answers.

But, I think all through my life, I’ve been surrounded by quiet angels like Joe, Bill, and Joe. 

These angels were always working behind the scenes to mold, shape, and nudge me no matter how resistant I might have been.

Maybe this Christmas, you can take a few minutes to reflect on the angels in your life who molded, shaped, and nudged you. 

Ladders, lifts, and lights aren’t managed without them.

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