Carnett: A true guiding light from the pulpit

February 03, 2014|By Jim Carnett

It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my youth.

Between the ages of 10 and 13, I served as an acolyte at my church, and it was a duty I relished.

I turned 8 in 1953, and my family began attending Newport Harbor Lutheran Church on Cliff Drive, overlooking Newport Bay.

I loved everything about the church: its location, its spectacular view, its formal liturgy and its informal culture. My family became active, and within a matter of months we knew every other family in the church.


Many church dads — like my father — were World War II veterans. Many mothers were stay-at-home moms. My mother soon became church secretary and Sunday school director.

Church pastor Robert B. Gronlund was a decorated World War II veteran. Not yet 30, he was fresh out of seminary. I was drawn to his charismatic personality. His vivacious wife led the children's choir.

When I was 10, Gronlund recruited me to become an acolyte.

It was my responsibility at services to light altar candles before the first hymn, assist the pastor with communion and extinguish the candles following the final hymn. Plus, I got to wear a cool uniform. It consisted of a floor-length black cassock with a white robe over the top.

I loved the solemnity of my duties. I felt I was doing God's work. I also figured a certain seventh-grade girl might notice me.

Because my family was so involved with church, I became the go-to acolyte. I was regularly tabbed for assignments. On many Sundays I served both services.

My dad, an usher, my mom and the family would arrive early for the 8 a.m. service. We'd stay for Sunday school, and then my parents and two younger siblings would go home. I'd remain to do my duties during the 11 a.m. service. Dad would pick me up at 12:45 p.m.

I did Sunday morning services, midweek evening Lenten services, Christmas Eve candlelight services, and Easter sunrise and morning celebrations.

I loved listening to Pastor Gronlund preach. I'd closely listen to the 11 a.m. Sunday sermon, trying to grasp teaching points I'd missed at 8 a.m. And I anticipated second-service audience responses to the pastor's anecdotes and jokes. No two audiences, I discovered, were alike.

In our church, an acolyte remained seated at the side of the altar for the entire service. I sat in a slightly recessed alcove, with a direct view of the pulpit.

The pastor sat opposite me. I watched his face. My stomach would feel sympathetic butterflies as we sang the hymn preceding his sermon.

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