Alice, a dappled grey Standard donkey, lived at the DSC for several years. Although she has since died, Alice made a singular impression on all of us and every year, around Easter, I am reminded of one of her Palm Sunday visits to an area church.
From time to time calls have come in to the Sanctuary with the request that we take donkeys to local churches to be a part of their Christmas or Easter services. As those of you familiar with Christian traditions are aware, donkeys are integral to each of these pivotal biblical stories. It was a donkey who transported Mary to Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth and then, for his triumphant final entry to Jerusalem, Jesus chose to ride a donkey. In our experience, the impact of the recounting of the stories is made much more dramatic when a donkey is present in the church. Of course, whenever we attend these events we select our most easy-going, adaptable animals to take part and Alice was often chosen.
On the particular Palm Sunday morning of this story, the sun was shining gloriously and there was a tangible freshness to the air. Earlier, Alice’s coat had been brushed to its shining best. When the time came to depart, she walked in her dainty manner up the ramp and into the trailer. The trip took almost an hour and when we arrived at our destination Alice walked just as calmly down the ramp, into the parking lot where she stood patiently waiting, as if to say, “Now, what?”
Ahead of us was the 100 year old stone church. When we approached the building, Alice climbed the steps without hesitation. Then, however, she came to a full stop before the black rubber mat just inside the doorway. It took us a moment to appreciate that to the donkey’s eyes, the mat was not solid; instead, it appeared to be a deep dark hole. We looked around in some confusion and fortunately, we spied several sheets of newspaper lying on a bench nearby. We covered the mat with them. Alice looked at this new surface and glided serenely through the doorway.
Inside, the walls of the nave were trimmed with decorative oak wainscoting. The windows were fitted with stained glass while sunshine filtered through the many colours causing rays of blue, red and green to float in the air. As we stood in the rear, we noted that the pews were filled with worshippers of all ages.
The service began with a procession. When Alice was led up the aisle we could hear the murmurs of surprise, especially from the children in attendance. She walked up to the chancel and stood quietly off to the side while the narrative was read. We were very proud of her. Her presence so greatly enhanced the narration, making it feel closer at hand, more real. Then the minister gave a brief sermon after which the time came for Alice to walk once again along the centre aisle.
By that point in the service, many of the children had moved to the outside edge of their pews so that they might have a better look at Alice. I remember noticing that there was a little boy, about 4 years old, standing half way down, nibbling on a cookie as he waited for Alice to pass. As she drew nearer to him, the little boy stopped eating and held the cookie at shoulder height while he stared, entranced. Quick as a flash, never missing a beat, Alice reached over and plucked the cookie from his hand. His jaw fell open and his eyes widened in surprise while the donkey continued along, munching contentedly.
And there it was. A moment in time: the dark pews, the backs of the congregation, the filtered light shining down the aisle, Alice and the little boy with the cookie in his hand. Memories like this one are better than photographs, I think. When I close my eyes I can still hear the clip clop of Alice’s hooves on the stone floor as she left the church, enjoying the last of the biscuit.
Memories like this one mean so very much; for me, Alice and the cookie and the hopeful message of Easter are all together in my mind.
Sandra Pady, Founder