How I became a St. James altar boy: God save the king!

In his series “How I became a St. James altar boy,” Ralph Horner writes about growing up next to St. James Anglican Catholic Church in Goodrich-Kirtland Park and how he got drawn into being an altar boy and, eventually, “a high Anglo Catholic, but not under the Pope Pius XII.” In the last installment, Horner shares how he was humiliated when he spilled incense during mass. This week, his little sister takes his embarrassment to a whole new level.

I liked serving Mass. It made me feel holy and dignified. Low Mass was at 8:30 a.m. and High Mass was at 10 a.m. I figured that Low Mass was for sinners, and the church didn't want to give them music or waste time or personnel on this group.

I didn’t  mind serving Low Mass because it was just the priest and me on the altar. I felt like a junior priest, and I had to serve my congregation.

However, my sanctified status didn't last long because I was brought down by my four-year-old sister.

One morning, I had been scheduled to  serve 10 a.m. High Mass, but Father Peterson told me that I would have to serve 8 a.m. Low Mass because Billy Bartell was sick and couldn't make it. I told him that I couldn't because I had to watch my little sister.

Ralph and his little sisterRalph and his little sisterFather Peterson told me that it would be okay because she could sit in the pews while I was serving mass. Later, I was in the midst of serving and she was the last thing on my mind. My religious bliss was suddenly interrupted by a tugging on my cassock.  I looked down and saw that it was my little sister pulling on it and saying, “Whatcha doin’? Can I help you?”

She said it loud enough for the whole congregation to hear. The entire  church broke into laughter, and I could have crawled under the alter rug!

How could she have done this to me while I was doing something so sanctified and important? Didn't she understand that this was holy territory, and a person shouldn't set foot on it unless the person was a priest or an altar boy? 

A lady came up, took my sister back to the pews, and kept her quiet for the rest of the ceremony.  After Mass I was in the sanctuary changing my clothes when the same lady brought my sister back.

Father Peterson didn't say anything about the fiasco with a little girl on the altar. I was starting to think the worst was over and my embarrassment would be forgotten in time when she said these fatal words to Father Pete, “Do you know what I did in church Father Pete? I passed gas in church.” 

My humiliation was complete. I grabbed her hand and slinked out the church like the whipped dog that I truly was. I wondered if I could become Jewish, Lutheran, or Amish. My life as a High Episcopal Anglo Catholic (but not under the Pope) was surely over.

I stayed away from the church the next Sunday. The following Sunday, I quietly slinked back in to sacristy and no one said a word. My semi-sanctified persona did return, and I was happy to be of service to Father Pete, the Congregation of Saint James Church, the Head of the Anglican Church of England, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, and his Majesty Henry the Eighth. God save the King!

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.