It began last summer with a question about unicorns and has continued into 2019 with Mermaid Sunday.
The request came mid-summer of 2018, and was not as off the wall as one might think, given that the summer schedule already included a Unicorn Sunday and Superhero Sunday. Perhaps it was the warmth of the season, but I found myself distressed – what if someone thought it was a good idea to show up in church wearing a coconut shell bra? I called a friend that had already been briefed on my Summer Road Trip plan and asked – what do I do? We talked it out. I was short a themed worship service for August, a rough month for transitions in that tradition might hold that summer does not end until the sun sets on Labor Day Monday and yet our present reality is that school is back in session by the second week of the month. The idea of something aquatic was attractive, perhaps we could move from a Mermaid theme to a Beach theme? I have as many issues with loose sand as I do loose glitter, so we moved on. What about Aloha? A word that means hello and goodbye? More on that later.
I’ll move the narrative to late fall. I was discussing winter worship themes with our music staff, and my mermaid advocate reflected that it might be nice to have a warm and fun Sunday in February. We looked at the calendar, and the 3rd Sunday looked like a plausible option; a week after our church’s traditional Valentine luncheon, and also the Sunday before General Conference – a good time to spread some joy in the life of the congregation.
Our focus scripture, “I will teach you to fish for people,” came from the previous week’s lectionary (Luke 5:1-11). Who better than a mermaid to know what it’s like to call forth people? For hymns we chose “Jesus Calls Us,” “Two Fisherman,” and “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.” For kids time, I was prepared to either discuss mermaids or to hand out seashells, depending on the age of the people who decided to join me. I draped a blue length of fabric on the altar with a prop net, found a few votives that seemed reminiscent of sea glass, added a lantern to evoke the notion of a lighthouse, and piled up some royal blue tulle I bought at the church yard sale to look like waves.
A note about content – I led with references to both the original Little Mermaid, written by Hans Christian Anderson, and Disney’s 1989 movie of the same name. A wise friend pointed out to me during my preparation stage that while I, the daughter of Danish immigrant, might assume that this fairy tale might be people’s primary reference point… others might be most familiar with the more recent movie which works from the original story as source material but “fixes” a number of the darker aspects. The original is easily found at your local library or online as a download; I’d encourage anyone planning a mermaid event to read the entirety of the original, perhaps with a hot beverage and snack. The part of the original I found most encouraging comes at the end, when the little mermaid finds immortality not because of the actions of her father or a prince, but because she is scooped up, named and claimed by the Spirits of the Air who assure her they have always known her and appreciate her acts of kindness. I don’t want to spoil it for you; I do encourage you to read the story for yourself and ponder how the tale interacts with the Christian notion of God’s call upon our lives.
Where I wound up goes like this: we believe in a God whose nets are big enough for all of us. The fisherman who answered the call took an incredible risk; and our lives since then have included stories of others who have taken great risks. Examples of risk in our own church include managing a 100+ plot community garden, filling and delivering backpacks to the neighborhood elementary school, hosting 50+ children at our kids day out and preschool, and planning goofy theme Sundays that entice visitors to come see what will happen next. In the midst of the struggle, we believe that God is with us and that we are called to reach out to one another in community – so that together we might share the faith stores that have saving power and remember God’s call and claim on our lives.
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
ps We had a grand time at our “mermaid party” between services. Stations included creating sugary edible clams and oysters; paper mermaid tails; clothespin magnet mermaid clips; and rubber stamped bookmarks and notecards. Sunday School attendance set a winter record in spite of cold and snow; 31 adults and kids joined us for the craft stations and mermaid treats.