The Beach Ball

Submitted by Joyce Hollyday on January 24, 2011 - 3:33pm
Healing connection in the bleak midwinter

I’m guessing that Circle of Mercy, the congregation I co-pastor, is the only church in existence with an annual prom in the dead of winter. The tradition came about like this. A few of us were talking after the worship service at one of our weekly potluck dinners about how we seem to be a “last-chance church” for a lot of people. We tend to attract folks wounded in one way or another by previous religious experience.

Somebody piped up, “Well, I was wounded by my prom.” That launched a barrage of embarrassing stories about adolescent trauma in the high school gym. Someone suggested that we should have a Circle of Mercy prom for laughs and healing. Everybody agreed that it would be good to have something other than Groundhog Day to look forward to in the bleak lull after the busy holiday season.

Last year’s theme was The Beach Ball. The children decorated with fake flowers and, of course, beach balls. The host family hung a disco ball on the ceiling that threw colorful shards of circling light everywhere. People showed up in tacky polyester suits, gaudy tropical shirts, and Goodwill gowns, some pinned with plastic corsages. Mark, our musician, arrived wearing half-tuxedo and half-wetsuit, carrying his surfboard.

It didn’t matter if you showed up with your children, a spouse, a partner, a date, or alone. It didn’t matter if you were 8 or 80, had Down syndrome or wore hearing aids, danced like Michael Jackson or one of The Three Stooges. Nobody was going to insist that you stand in the corner feeling bad about yourself.

There was no coronation of the King and Queen of the Ball. Though let me say, ever so humbly, that my mermaid get-up—complete with sequined fishtail, diamond-studded fake eyelashes, plastic crown, and waist-length curly blond wig—won Grand Prize in the costume competition.

I arrived home very late that night with a smile that seemed permanent, thankful for the spontaneous joy of the event, which did indeed feel like a healing balm to many of the attendees. I stared for a while at the sparkly-glittery blue nail polish that an 8-year-old friend had insisted I wear and graciously applied. I had to awake very early the next morning for a trip to the maximum-security prison, to participate in the baptism of half a dozen inmates. It seemed best to remove the eye-catching nail polish. I finished the fingernails and then, too weary to continue, decided the toenails could wait.

What I hadn’t counted on was the foot-washing ritual that followed the baptism.

I sat in a plastic chair at the prison, a middle-aged woman pastor with sparkly-glittery blue toenails resting in a basin of warm water. A newly baptized inmate with a full-forearm tattoo that can only be described as pornographic (the words wench and buxom come to mind) gently smiled, washed my feet, and proclaimed, “God bless you.” It seemed pointless to try to explain the toenails and the prom to this young stranger. All I could do was smile back and receive the gift of connection, which had washed over me at the dance and then spilled over into a prison basin.

Joyce, your writing is

Joyce, your writing is awesome! I am your new number one fan!

Rebecca, I apologize for such


I apologize for such a tardy response. I hope you will see this eventually (I"m still very new to this technology and forget to check for replies). Thrilled to have a new fan! Hope I won't disappoint.

Blessings, sister,


what a ball

Joyce that is such a fun post. I think celebrating what wounds you is a great way to move through it, and actually I too am organizing a prom in my community for February - a People's Prom. Where you make it what you always wanted your prom to be - a festival of fun and costumes and everyone getting silly on the dance floor. I can only hope that my painted toenails will expand the connection and festivites into the world. thanks for sharing.

How was YOUR prom?

Thanks, Nola. I hope you had as much fun at your prom as I did at mine. Would love to hear how it went.


Simply precious

Joyce this may receive the award for the warmest and funniest blog at seeking community to date. We will certainly feature this in our upcoming seekers journal. What a gift. I can just see you there with the colorful toe nails. I love the prom idea - what a great way fro people to be together and build community. It is these types of celebration that as you can say can build connection and healing and also commitment to each other. Every winter I try and host a fiesta for my friends or neighbors This year we have one planned with our neighbors in March 6. The rule is come in your favorite summer outfit. I get the house to 85 degrees and we listen to salsa music and Cuban jazz and eat mexican food. A wonderful sense of warmth and community arrises. I would love to read more blogs about celebration and healing as community. Much joy and a huge thanks.

Great idea


I love the idea of the midwinter fiesta. What a great tradition! I hope it will be fun. And thanks for featuring my prom blog.