Post Easter Quarterbacking: Warning Light On The Dashboard

My Good Friday started early.

At our church, I switched out the purple cloth on the cross to a black cloth.

Later that morning, the Commander Supreme and I would be driving to Summerfield, North Carolina.

Our oldest daughter, and her family were hosting the Pike side of the family for a Easter gathering and Easter egg hunt on Saturday afternoon.

The Commander Supreme and I drove separately. That would allow me to return to Richmond late on Saturday afternoon so I could be available to help at Trinity for our four services on Easter Sunday.

Aside from a low tire pressure warning light showing up on my dashboard, my drive was uneventful.

From that tire warning light, I learned the following: on a road trip, always have a tire pressure gauge and quarters.
We had a good family gathering on Saturday afternoon. Our one living uncle Harry and his wife, Carol, were there, and it was good to see cousins who I hadn’t seen recently.

The kids enjoyed the Easter egg hunt. In the weeks ahead, I expect a few undiscovered eggs will be found around the yard.

When we drive to Summerfield, we take what I call the back way. The main roads are U. S. Highways—60, 360, 58, and 29.

Truthfully, there isn’t much to see along this route. Lots of small towns whose names have “ville” in their spelling—Danville, Turbeville, Keysville, Farmville, Burkeville, Jetersville.

Coming back on Saturday, in the outer city limits of Danville, I started counting churches. I’m sure I missed a few, but as I neared U. S. 60 in Powhatan County, I stopped counting. At that point, I was in the mid-twenties.

And with that I asked my curious questions about these churches—what was planned for Easter, how were these small, rural churches holding up, will they still be around next Easter?

Back at the house, I unloaded, fixed something to eat, and headed for bed.

Sunday morning would come early. The sunrise service had a 6:30 start time.

I opened up the church. Next, I headed to the front lawn to transition the cross from the black cloth to chicken wire. The chicken wire would allow the congregation to add fresh flowers to the cross.

I’ll admit, the tangled chicken wire tried my patience.

Yet, we made it through all four services, and attendance was good.

We saw new faces, faces we hadn’t seen during the pandemic, and the tried and true.

The highlight was the modern worship service with lots of young families and their children.

Just like Christmas services, the challenge for churches following Easter Sunday is always this— how do we lure all those people back into the building?

The plain hard truth is that many will not be back the next Sunday, or the one after that. In fact, in some instances, it will be Christmas before they return.

Why is that?

Maybe churches burn so much energy on Easter Sunday that they forget about the next Sunday. In truth, the next Sunday should be just as important as Easter Sunday.

Out on 58 and 360, there is lots of time to think, and here is something I asked myself related to Easter: Why can’t Easter Sunday become a permanent date?

Some years, Easter is in March. Other years, Easter is in April.

I’m sure there is a very carefully thought out process as to when Easter takes place.

For example, imagine if Easter was always the third Sunday in April. We would keep the forty days of Lent, but give Easter Sunday a permanent home.

I know the answer. Easter will never have a standing date.

A church change like that would mean the end of the world, and an assurance that Bill Pike will burn in hell.

On Thursday, April 21, I went out to the front lawn of the church to remove the weary flowers from the chicken wire wrapped cross.

I managed to untangle the chicken wire from the cross, and I returned it to the Eaton Hall mechanical room where it will rest until next year.

Despite trying to keep in shape, I struggled to pull the wooden cross out of the ground. My upper body strength is fading just like those flowers faded on the cross.

Once out of the ground, the cross felt heavier this year. The walk to the Eaton Hall mechanical room was an effort.

I angled the cross down the old concrete steps, slid it through the double doors, and into its resting place in the mechanical room.

Silently, I thought to myself, I wonder if I’ll be able to do this next year?

And in truth, that is part of my question for the hope that Easter is supposed to bring us.

Despite the hope of the cross, the life challenging headlines don’t stop for Easter.

I struggle with the Easter story every year.

I want its hope not to be a one and done day.

But it seems each year, we creep further and further away from the cross, and its hope.

Just like that low tire pressure warning light appeared on the dashboard of my car, the warning lights on the dashboard of the church have been flashing for a number of years.

And in truth there are warning lights flashing inside of me.

At times, I sense the pace of life pushes me to ignore those warning signals.

Maybe Easter is a warning light.

Perhaps, Easter is a reminder about how tough life can be when I fail to be patient, to listen, to be kind, to understand, and to love.

After all, wasn’t “to love one another” the essential take away from the short life of Jesus?

Stained glass window Trinity UMC photo by Bill Pike

Easter Hope

Monday, April 11, 2022

Dear Editor,

As an imperfect Christian, I struggle every year with the season of Lent, the events of Holy Week, and Easter.

This is despite studying scripture from the Bible, reading thoughtful devotionals about Lent, and listening to sermons on Sunday mornings.

From my naive perspective, a good person, Jesus, lost his life on the cross for challenging us to love each other.

For the first time in two years, we will have four in person worship services at our church on Easter morning.

The slog through the pandemic for churches has been painful.

But, not as painful as the loss of life on that cross.

I wonder if you, me, we, us, are ever going to wake up and love as Jesus suggested?

How many of our senseless societal tragedies in our daily living might have been avoided if we could set aside our differences, our division, and soften our stubborn hearts with love?

For too long, we have become very good at destroying ourselves.

When are we going to say enough?

Regardless of my personal struggles with Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, I still hold on to hope.

Hope that our hearts can change.

Bill Pike
Henrico County, Virginia

Easter morning Trinity UMC in Henrico County, Virginia photo by Bill Pike

When Baseball Doesn’t Fit

On the morning of Saturday, April 2, 2022, my wife, the Commander Supreme, and I were in Summerfield, North Carolina. It was opening day for the Summerfield Little League.

Pretty North Carolina sunshine was out in its famous blue sky, but the unseasonably cool overnight temperatures were still lingering for our ten o’clock game.

Our grandson turns four this month. He is excited to be playing baseball for the first time. This morning, he is all decked out in his uniform, hat, and backpack that carried a bat and other necessary baseball stuff.

His team was playing a doubleheader today. The second game was scheduled for noon. Today, these youngsters would make Ernie Banks proud with his famous, “let’s play two,” quote.

Unfortunately, the first early morning game started late. Now, the whole schedule was behind.

We were watching what seemed like an endless game on the field where our grandson would be playing.

But gradually, the game ended, and the teams and their coaches lined up to shake hands before scurrying off the field for their post-game snack.

With assists from parents and coaches, our grandson’s team entered their dugout.

I have lots of admiration for volunteer coaches. This assignment is not for the faint of heart.

A volunteer coach must be able to wear multiple hats. Those hats require skills in time management, organization, delegating, communicating, patience, listening, and yes, it helps if the coach knows a tiny bit about baseball.

Additionally, a coach who has a degree in psychology might have an advantage over other coaches in working with players and their parents who present all kinds of personality challenges.

There were no warmups, one team took the field, and the other team batted.

Batting order was based on a player’s uniform number. Our grandson’s jersey has a two on the back. So, he was batting first. In the field, his coach had assigned him to play first base.

One of the coaches pitched four, slow overhand pitches to each batter on his team. If the batter failed to connect and hit one of those pitches, the batting tee was put into play.

I loved watching the hitters swing. Some swung early, some late. Once in awhile there was contact. Often, those hits dribbled off into foul territory.

At times, swinging at the ball on the tee was just as frustrating. That was largely due to how the batter’s feet and body were distanced from the tee.

When there was a hit, the words “go or run” was shouted out from the coaches and spectators.

With runners on base, rarely was a base runner tossed out when a ball was fielded.

Instead of throwing a ball to the base where a player was advancing, sometimes the fielder would run the ball to the base. In this case, fast feet were more accurate than an imprecise young arm throwing a ball in the direction of a daydreaming teammate.

Our grandson did pretty well at first base. He was able to stop most of the balls that came his way. Even though he did not pitch, he was a bit unsure of himself when he was moved to the pitcher’s spot. In that space, he basically was positioned behind the coach who was pitching to the batters.

But not all of the players on the team were doing well.

One player had not made it out on to the field. Unfortunately, this player and his father were in a struggle with each other. For whatever reason, the son had no interest in being on the field with his teammates.

It was quite clear that the son and the father were not happy with each other. I could tell that the father was upset, but he was doing a pretty good job of containing himself.

At one point, they packed everything up, and along with two siblings left the grounds. A short while later they reappeared, and the father and son entered the dugout. But, there was no more cooperation generated from the son, so they departed again.

Another father became agitated with his son’s lack of interest on the field. The father removed him from the game. There was quite a conversation between the husband and his wife. The husband was also displeased with how the team was faring on the field. I heard him say out loud, “they look awful.”

I thought to myself, “Nope, the awful is how you are handling this first game of the season.”

I was and still am an imperfect parent.

But, I learned from all of my years working in schools that being a parent is tough work.

Parenting in public is even more challenging because the eyes of the spectators are upon you too.

Playing little league baseball isn’t inexpensive. I would assume frustrated parents are thinking—“We paid all of this money for you to play, so by golly you are going to play.”

Parents want their children to find success whether it is on a baseball field or learning to play a musical instrument.

No matter if it is the pursuit of a sport or learning to play an instrument, parents will invest money, time, and support into their child. Despite this effort, sometimes the outcome isn’t successful.

And there is another significant piece—patience. A parent must have the capacity to be patient no matter how fragile the journey might be for the child and the parent. Parental patience is very difficult in our overly impatient world.

Coming to grips with patience also requires a parent to be reflective by recalling and asking—how did I respond when my parents pushed me to pursue sports or other activities?

Along with the patience, there is another essential skill—listening.

What is a child really saying to a parent when he/she refuses to participate? Trying to listen in the chaos of an uncooperative moment just adds another layer of stress and pressure on the child and the parent.

Later in May, we are scheduled to return to Summerfield. It will be interesting to see if the team has progressed from the opening day.

As the Commander Supreme was strolling around the grounds waiting for the game to start, she came upon a sign posted by the Summerfield Recreation Association. The sign’s gentle reminders are very appropriate.

Please Remember

These are kids. This is a game. Coaches are volunteers. Umpires are human. This isn’t the majors.

I love those words.

I love the honest truth in each statement.

And I know the challenge—keeping that wisdom in front of me before, during, and after the game.

But, if we really love our children and grandchildren, living those words should not be a challenge.

Photo by Betsy Pike

God said, “Let there be a kaboom,” and there was a kaboom.

Since early on the morning of Friday, March 25, the pace at Trinity had picked up.

At 3:30 this afternoon, we are hosting our second large funeral of the week. Both funerals also included our first receptions for family and friends since the start of the pandemic.

Funerals require lots of attention to detail, and the reception piece pushed us to remember previous plans and set ups.

Through the morning, flowers and food arrived. Family members rechecked photo and floral displays. Staff fingers were crossed that any technology gremlins hidden deep in cables and circuit boards would take the afternoon off.

I spent a good portion of the morning wedding in high traffic areas. Weeds love our Bicentennial Garden and cracks in the mortar of brick sidewalks.

After 1 p.m. I sensed we were in pretty good shape.

Just to be sure, I checked in with Judy Oguich, our Minister of Congregational Care, who was in charge of the service this afternoon. Judy agreed that we were ready, as she was making her final preps before departing for the graveside service at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

I’ve been working out of Room 317, and I walked up to check a few e-mails before heading home to clean up. I had the window open. I had just finished responding to my last e-mail, and that’s when I heard this really loud kaboom! It seemed to rumble for a few seconds, and the lights in the room barely flickered.

I poked my head out the window. We’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1983, and sometimes, our stately, specimen trees have a violent disagreement with power lines. But as I looked around the Stuart Hall Road side of the building I saw nothing unusual.

I walked down to the church office to let our Financial Secretary, Diane Ladd, know that I was headed home. I asked her if she had heard the loud kaboom, and she hadn’t.

I decided to cut through Trinity Hall to check on our weekly food drive, and that’s when I ran into Ronnie Johnson, our Head Building Caregiver.

Ronnie asked if I had heard the kaboom. I acknowledged that I had.

He walked me outside, and said the explosion scared him to death, and that he had seen a plume of smoke come out of one of the large green underground transformer boxes.

Ronnie was so startled that he moved his truck away from the area.

So, I quickly headed back into the building. I let Diane know what Ronnie had witnessed. I told her I was calling Dominion Energy to report the explosion.

In my urgency to call Dominion, I failed to notice that the Trinity Hall elevator door was partially open and frozen.

With Dominion, I detailed what I knew. The dispatcher took the information and placed a work order. And since smoke had been seen, I was directed to call the fire department.

I placed the call to the fire department and explained the situation. The dispatcher was thorough, and asked good questions. She also warned me to be aware of electrified water when we checked the mechanical room.

Ronnie and I checked the Trinity Hall mechanical room. One back corner near the elevator controls was dark, but no electrified water was to be found.

We went back outside and waited for our helpers to appear.

It wasn’t long before we saw the shiny red body and lights of a firetruck heading down Stuart Hall hill. We waved the truck in toward the back of Trinity Hall.

The driver stayed close to the truck, and two firefighters started to walk the interior of the building. Smarter than me, they were looking for indications that the explosion had taken down one phase of electricity that fed our building.

Within the next few minutes, Dominion employees in an assortment of trucks began to arrive. They were looking to find the power pole on our property that fed to our underground connection. And some where between answering their questions, I let them know that we had this large funeral at 3:30.

Dominion employees at the unhappy transformer Photo by Bill Pike

In their walk through, the firefighters had found that all three elevators in our building were down.

Dominion linemen located the pole transformer that had tripped from the explosion. They asked for permission to shutdown power to the building. This would allow them to open up the transformer that had exploded.

When the Dominion repairmen opened up the underground transformer, they found one component on the left side that had failed. The component on that side of the box was charred and black.

The Dominion team had a plan for making the repair with the electricity to the building off. I was directed to shutdown all of the elevators and any HVAC equipment that could be affected when the power was turned back on.

With the power off, our emergency lights kicked on, but we had some dark spots.

Diane gathered up candles for restroom countertops, and Judy worked to keep the family calm.

The reception volunteers had the tough job. With no elevator, they had to physically move food and other reception items from the Eaton Hall Kitchen into the Welcome Center. This included climbing stairs in a darkened stairwell.

By the time I returned to the location of the faulty transformer, the Dominion team reported they were within minutes of returning power to the building.

At the appropriate time, I re-entered the building and scurried into the Trinity Hall mechanical room and the two other mechanical closets for elevators.

When I returned power to the elevator in Trinity Hall, a huge panel where the electricity entered the room made a series of mournful electrical moans. I just knew the cover of that panel was going to kaboom off before I could get past it.

Unfortunately, the three elevators did not like the return of their electrical feed.

I reported this to the Dominion team. They asked for permission to enter the Trinity Hall mechanical room. In here, they focused the attention on the big panel that had made the disgruntled groans.

A meter was quickly applied to check the electricity readings. They didn’t like the numbers. The readings should have been higher. Something was still not quite right with the incoming power.

The low readings indicated they had missed something in the quick repair to get us back on line. So, electricity to the building was shutdown again, and I hustled back into the building to turn off equipment, and waited.

With their thinking caps on, the Dominion team made one little tweak, and then turned the electricity back on.

This time the big panel made no grumbling sound. It was silent when I hit the elevator’s main switch. This elevator and the two others were now back on line.

I thanked the Dominion team for all of their help. I went back to the Welcome Center to check on our reception volunteers, and to gauge how the service was going. Both were in good shape.

Sometimes, I think God needs a diversion in his work.

Part of me thinks on that Friday afternoon, God thought to himself— “Rapidly aging Bill needs a challenge, let’s play with some electricity in the building and see how he responds.”

And God thought further, “Let’s see if he cusses me like a blue streak as hot as an unchecked electrical arc, or maybe he will keep his wits, and learn something.”

There was no time for a blue streak of harsh, hot words directed toward God.

But upon reflection, I did learn quite a bit in those two hours of contained chaos.

Let me share.

Transformer explosions are fickle, unpredictable.

Firefighters are trained to be calmly observant.

Dominion employees are well-trained, and equipped, but more importantly— they are good listeners.

Church volunteers are rapidly aging. Churches must figure out the means for bringing on board younger volunteers.

I re-learned something that I already knew. Sam one of the employees from Bennett Funeral Home is a gentleman, who is always willing to help.

God protected us. No one was injured when the kaboom occurred.

And if God really needed a diversion that Friday afternoon, I forgive him because I slept well that night.

But, here is what I really learned.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

When there is a kaboom in your life, the light switch in the hearts of good people are nudged on by God.

On Friday afternoon, the light in the hearts of many good people saved us.

I am thankful for their good hearts.

Thanks God for nudging them on.

Some of God’s early morning sunlight piercing through door top windows into Trinity Hall photo by Bill Pike