The Roman schola carried all the way from the television to the kitchen.
I’d just made a tasty pasta dish with real Italian pipe rigate, yellow bell pepper, Gulf shrimp, honeyed goat cheese, uncured Sunday bacon, organic shredded parm from the block, broccoli florets and peas, plus my liberal mix of herbs and spices and olive oil, and was privately pleased to be having my Good Friday dinner in virtual attendance at the Vatican mass.
But, standing in the doorway leading from the kitchen, gathering my plateful, Viva paper towel, fork, and milk glass of water, what I actually heard was one voice – in my head.
Percy Pickering had brought his entire family to the States from England, the year I was in 6th grade. One of their first stops was to my town, to spend an afternoon and have supper at our house. There was Percy, bald, big boned and portly, with full lips sporting a bright blood blister and eyes a twinkle; Peg, his wife, redhair braided against her head and straight backed; Margaret, also redhaired but auburn and worldly wise, comfortably settled in the cushions of the wingbacked chair; carrot topped Peter, bright eyed and big and giggly; and, Paul, lean, turtlenecked, quiet like his mother, just one year older than I. They’d come because Percy, a minister of the Gospel and Bible scholar, had chosen to leave his employ in the UK and become a traveling “laborer” in America for the Assembly of the Plymouth Brethren.
Mum had the full spread ready. Maple dining room table open, with the leaf, linen cloth and napkins, the good English China. Turkey roll, ham, creamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, sweet potato casserole, individual fruit filled Jello salads each with their dollop of mayonnaise and two pies, Cool Whip cherry and pumpkin. We would learn many things that evening, not the least of which was that the English never mixed fruits into Jello or made pie out of pumpkin.
The Pickerings became beloved by our family. Mum had been so taken by those of her own ilk, and Percy reminded faintly of her father, Henry, also a Bible scholar and Englishman.
But, unlike Henry, Percy could sing.
His voice was a bright, bell tenor and, from the podium in the grand Crawford Hall Auditorium of the Eastern Bible Conference held at Grove City College, he would lead the whole congregation ably in the hymns of invitation which he chose every time he was slated to preach.
And, preach he did. Percy was also a magnificent orator. His sermon was as much a dramatic soliloquy as it was the most persuasive sales pitch for salvation ever before heard. He would reach a peak of both volume and intensity, clutching his Bible under one arm and hoisting that immense voice with the breadth of a chest bursting with a passion for Christ, then drop to a stage whisper. As we all opened our white lyric booklets to search for the closing hymn, he would plead for souls to come to Jesus, reciting the text of the opening verse with imploring, personalized tones, his eyes alight with the certain promise of eternal rapture. And, then, he would sing.
The entire collective of the fellowship of the Plymouth Brethren knew the tunes. These were hymns carried down for generations, supported only by a single pianist at the baby grand in the corner. But, Percy would sing them full on, the words of Fanny Crosby and others carried by his spun tenor.
Over the years which would follow, up to a death from brain cancer (his likely caused by shrapnel from the second World War), and through Mum’s passing from the same, at my most remote, flailing moments when I’d chance to pull out Choice Hymns of the Faith, the only voice I would ever hear would be Percy Pickering’s.
And now, from across the endless universe, there it came again.
I hadn’t attended a Good Friday service for years, but had played many in the denominations across Christendom as cellist for the annual string quartet. Tonight, alone during the pandemic, I sought some semblance of familiar piety, some ritual to carry me. The Vatican was enacting Jesus’ road to Calvary. The Pope stood, head bowed, reading the prompts in Italian, children speaking at each station of the Cross. As I set my dinner plate onto the Tv table and opened my cloth lap napkin, Jesus had stumbled for the third time.
We’d never been taught that Jesus had fallen, at all. We’d come to believe that Peter had helped him carry the cross. Again, I heard Percy’s voice. I’d heard his singing voice, in the kitchen doorway, his imploring altar call, over the entire Roman schola. Now, he would assert his Savior’s sacrifice, declaring himself a priest according to the book of Hebrews, confident in the Gospel of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Roman soldiers, let alone their schola, could not carry that Cross.
© 4/3/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole, including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the truth.