After sitting upright in my seat during a communion service, my mother began to repeatedly strike me over the head.
A puzzled look swept over my face as I thought, “I didn’t do anything this time.”
I soon realized the reason for my mother’s seemingly abusive behavior when i smelled something peculiar burning.
My hair was on fire!
We were sitting in the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg, Pa., taking part in a candlelight communion service in April 1976.
Apparently, my parents didn’t realize I could not be trusted to hold a lit candle; and after I singed my hair, I would have to agree with their enlightened conclusion.
Every year my family went along with the church youth group on their annual youth convention in the state capital Easter weekend.
Although I was only a young lad of 10, I was privileged to join in on the church’s youth festivities.
I had connections – or maybe it was because my father was the pastor and my mother was the youth advisor… so much for my connections.
The youth convention was one of the highlights of my year.
Not only did I get to stay in a fancy motel for two nights and eat out for every meal, we also received a cool looking pendent to commemorate the special occasion.
I also looked forward to the more than three hour bus ride from Bentleyville, Pa. to the Keystone state’s seat of government.
I enjoyed stretching out on the bus seats with my pillow and blanket while I fell asleep to the melodic rhythm of the bus going bumpity-bump as it careened down the highway to our destination.
This year was extra special to me because the event organizers had planned a unique patriotic parade in honor of our nation’s bicentennial celebration.
Having a passion for American history, I eagerly awaited the multitude of youth participants as they paraded by our seats dressed as great historic personalities from our nation’s long and colorful past.
The candlelight communion service during church on Good Friday was an especially meaningful highlight of the annual youth gathering.
After everyone was given the sacraments representing Christ’s death on the cross, one by one, candles lit up all across the darkened arena.
It was a positively mesmerizing sight to behold.
When I received my small morsel of bread along with a little plastic cup of grape juice, I gently set the tiny cup on the floor next to my feet as I laid the bread in my lap.
I eagerly waited for the candles that were being passed out a row at a time.
After acquiring one of the coveted long, thin objects sporting a wick, I hurriedly placed it through the round wax holder and waited for the passing flame as the flicker of light made its way toward me.
I glanced around the huge arena watching as the little flames of light illuminated the darkness all across the building.
It gave me goose bumps.
After the minister on the platform in the center of the main floor began to read the familiar passage of scripture for communion, I picked up the piece of bread from my lap and ate it along with everyone else at the appropriate time.
As I leaned forward to retrieve my cup of grape juice from the floor, I didn’t quite move the lit candle far enough away from my head.
Before I knew what was happening, my brown locks caught fire.
I can only imagine what someone on the other side of the arena must have been thinking. “Hmm… my candle doesn’t give off that much light.”
If they only knew…
The next thing I realized, my mother was thumping me over the head as she attempted to extinguish the flames that were beginning to singe my bangs.
I’m just glad there wasn’t a fire extinguisher nearby.
Every time I have participated in a candlelight communion service since that near tragic day in my youth, I pass on the candles when they are distributed.
I have lost enough of my hair through natural causes. I don’t need any help from a flaming candle.
Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton.