Our bags are packed and we will soon (hopefully) be in flight. In the lull of waiting I recall another odd occasion! Unfortunately my wife remembers more of my student experiences than I would wish. She claims that from the viewpoint of the congregation one of the most 'worship-disturbing' of all occurred not when I was preaching but when I was playing a harmonium to accompany another student.
The congregation was a small one outside Oxford and my fellow student Colin prepared carefully the whole act of worship which he was to lead from the front. Because they had no regular musician he was asked to bring one along. Although I would hardly claim to be regular I agreed.
The harmonium operated by foot pedals pumping air into the pipes. If the instrument was well-worn (which was generally the case) then both legs needed to be in continuous vigorous pumping motion, that later became the template for certain gym apparatus to trim leg muscles. Swell boards either side of the knees controlled the volume. Though a number of organ stops appeared to offer a range of possibilities, in most cases the variety of bearable sounds was limited with occasional notes refusing to sound at all.
On this memorable Sunday evening I seated myself on a circular leather stool having first adjusted the height. I was aware that this gave out an extraordinarily loud squeak when I moved to pump the pedals and tended to squeal whenever I shifted weight, especially getting on and off. I was at the front, immediately facing the preacher with my back to the the congregation.
The first hymn alerted my wife and the preacher to the unusually noisy stool and whether I was more vigorous than past organists I do not know but the squeaks and squeals set up giggling in the ranks. Great effort was made during the following prayer and reading to conquer the inner shaking. I could see Colin struggling and had no idea how close Carol was to complete meltdown. At the next hymn I tried to reduce that noise level by keeping as still as I could. So concentrating was I on noise reduction that I completely failed to realize the congregation had finished the hymn when I launched into a further verse as people were beginning to sit down. Unfortunately, this provided the coup de grace. I btought my mistaken recital to a sloppy discordant end hoping for silence, the stool misbehaved in monstrous fashion as I returned to my seat. Giggling that had been repressed by handkerchiefs and immense willpower now let rip. Colin was creased up in mirth and Carol could no longer control herself with tears running down her face.
I know how hard he concentrated to get through another two hymns before the end. I really apologized knowing how miserable it is to be sabotaged as a preacher, and to have engaged in such a shameful act is a scar on my memory.