At this year’s Fall Retreat at Mersey River Chalets, Holy Communion on the lake took place at 7:00 am, which was later than in the past – last year I think it was at 6:45. The temperature had dropped below zero overnight, so the grass and the leaves upon it were frosty, and there was a thin layer of ice on the lake, and mist drifting over it. It was quite beautiful.
I had printed leaflets containing the order of worship and the music for the service, including English Gradual set to plainchant and hymns. To illuminate these – for it was still dark outside (although already a little lighter than at 5:30 am, when I had my vigil slot) – we each had a beeswax taper. I was holding my taper and leaflet in the same hand, in order to keep my other hand in my pocket for warmth, switching hands every few minutes.
While we were singing the Nicene Creed, my friend Sophia, who was standing beside me, pointed out to me that my service leaflet was on fire. We both tried to blow it out, but to no avail – the fire just got bigger. As it was becoming apparent that my hand would soon get burned if I did not relinquish the paper, someone – it may have been Alison, who was standing on my other side – suggested, either by word or by gesture, I forget which, that I drop it on the ground and stomp the fire out. I did so, and the fire was rapidly extinguished.