The Rev. Ray Akin, pastor of the East Whittier Christian Church, struggled for an appropriate biblical lesson to put the church's newest dilemma in perspective.
Preparing for last Sunday's sermon, Akin looked up various references to honey in the book of Psalms and the poetic collection of verses called the Song of Solomon.
He even considered a gory tale in the Old Testament book of Judges that tells how Samson tore a lion apart with his bare hands and pulled a honeycomb from the belly of the vanquished beast.
Akin made his diligent search after honey began dripping from the apex of the sanctuary's 75-foot ceiling two weeks ago.
Puddle on Carpet
Church leaders preparing for Sunday services found a large puddle of the gooey substance on the platform in front of the church altar. They scrambled to spread large plastic drop cloths to catch the dripping honey before the congregation gathered.
Eventually, the pastor decided to discuss the honey-dripping dilemma in his weekly Sunday message to the congregation's children.
"We are blessed with an infestation of bees," Akin told the handful of boys and girls who were called to sit on the carpeted altar area, away from the dripping honey, during Sunday's service. "We are blessed with the fruits of their (the bees') labor."
Members of the 23-year-old church are abuzz over the implications of the honey, which they say appears to be dripping from an overloaded honeycomb hidden in a tiny space between the sweeping ceiling and the roof.
"This is truly manna from heaven," church day-care worker Peggy Wasmuth quipped as she passed out peaches to a group of preschoolers in the church yard.
'Sweet Gift From God'
Violet Holguin, another day-care worker, said the honey "is a sweet gift from God." Then she ran to the church kitchen, grabbed a cooking pot and placed it on the platform to collect some of the honey.
Even Akin has joined in the lighthearted remarks about the honey that seems to be dripping from nowhere.
"We could offer milk before or after worship," Akin suggested in a whimsical message he wrote for the church's weekly newsletter, "and call ourselves the church flowing with milk and honey."
Despite the good-natured comments about the steady flow of honey, it has begun to cause problems, Akin said.
Church members have been forced to spread plastic sheets across the altar platform to stem the spreading puddle on the carpet. And they have had to forgo many of the activities that center around the church altar, such as singing and preparing Communion.
May Need New Roof
Church leaders plan to launch a fund-raising campaign to finance a re-roofing project. "We've been told that there could be almost 500 pounds of honey up there," one deacon said Sunday.
Akin stressed the seriousness of the situation before the church ushers passed the offering plates around the small congregation. He cited a verse in the book of Revelation that says:
"So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, 'Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.' "
The honey "may be sweet to our mouths," Akin told the congregation, "but in the final analysis, I suspect that what we will have to do to combat the problem will turn sour in our stomachs. Please be generous."
Gene Brobston, a deacon and founding member of the church, said that the dripping honey is the latest in a series of problems since a swarm of bees began building hives around the reinforced footing of a cross that sits atop the red, high-peaked roof.
Exterminators Called In
Despite extermination efforts over the years, the bees remained. Later, he said, the swarms of honey bees found their way inside the roof--most likely to escape the work of the exterminators--and began building honeycombs in the 10-inch space between the acoustical ceiling and the underpinnings of the heavy cross.
"We've had to sweep (dead bees) up from the floor of the sanctuary," Brobston said. Once, he said, the church organist was stung on the finger by an angry honey bee. "Sometimes they swarm in by the hundreds," he said.
Brobston, a retired home builder, said that church leaders have been told by several exterminators a segment of the ceiling or the roof must be removed to get to the honeycomb. "We've tried everything simpler than that, but (the bees) keep coming back."
The ultimate solution, Brobston said, could cost thousands of dollars.
"It's not an expense we could afford to have over our heads right now," Akin said. "We'll have to start up fund-raising efforts."
Lesson for Children
In the meantime, however, some church members remain upbeat.
"It's wonderful," said Rebecca Serrini, a teacher at the church's day-care center. She said that three weeks ago, a fellow teacher coincidentally taught a group of children sitting in the sanctuary about the miracle of bees and how they collect nectar from flowers and turn it into honey.
"It's funny that we had the miracle happening right over our heads and we didn't know it," she said.
"It's like holy honey," added day-care center Director Stella Morago.