How many UCC people does it take to change a light bulb at Franklinton Center? Does the question remind you of any jokes you have heard?

Ron Fujiyoshi and I were sharing a dorm room at Franklinton Center, the UCC Justice and Witness Center in North Carolina, when the ceiling light went out. There was no other source of light, so we were definitely in the dark, and there was much to read and write. “Don’t worry about it, Ron,” I said. “We can manage tonight, and tomorrow I will change the bulb.” I can change a light bulb by myself, I thought. The answer is: one UCC person.

The next day, when I had a little free time, I looked around the residence hall for a light bulb and a ladder. I knew at the outset that I might have to ask someone, but first I would just look around. Naturally there were none to be found. After twenty minutes of checking out closets and drawers, I went in search of a staff person. The first ones I ran into were fully engaged in preparing the meal for the staff and guests of the center. Best to let them do their job without interruption, if I wanted to eat those Southern fried goodies, greens, and pies.

Next I ran into one of the center’s full-time community youth workers, Ken Brown. He puzzled for a minute and told me politely that I better go directly to the Center Director. They had to let go of their custodian last year in budget cuts. Everyone does a little bit of that duty, but it seems that light bulb duty fell to the director, Rev. Ervin Milton. I was beginning to suspect that the answer might be more than one.

When I found Rev. Milton, he indeed reported that the light bulbs were in his office, so I went with him to fetch them. I assured him I could change the bulbs, if I had a ladder. He said that the fixture had a simple pull-off globe, so usually he just stood on a chair. I could do that, too, I said. So, bulbs in hand, I returned to the room, borrowed a sturdy wooden chair from a meeting room down the hall, and tried to pull off the globe. Soon I noted that I might pull off the fixture, but the globe was firmly attached by little bolts that I couldn’t reach.

With a little imagination and further searching, I found a sturdy desk a few doors away, light enough for me to carry by myself back to my room, and so I did. With the chair and the desk I had my ladder and proceeded to try to twist those bolts. They were stuck. I tried but couldn’t budge them. I looked around for anything that would serve as an aid to loosen them, to no avail, so one hour after I had started I went in search of pliers.

The Center secretary looked in the tool kit, but could find no pliers. “People borrow tools, but never bring them back,” she said sadly. But maybe she had pliers in the kit she carried in the trunk of her car. We went to the car, opened the trunk and the tool kit, but again everything had been borrowed. The kit was empty except for the battery cables. “I’m sure I had some pliers here,” she said, so finally after some searching we found the pair that had slipped out of the kit and lodged in the far corner of the trunk. “Thank you,” I said, “and “I will get these back to you in just a few minutes. Don’t worry.”

With the pliers I finally managed to get those little screws to loosen. I replaced the two bulbs in the fixture, put the globe back on, and replaced two more bulbs in the bathroom, returned the pliers to the secretary, the chair and the desk to their respective locations, and let Rev. Milton know that the job was done, even though the globe was not meant to be pulled off. “Oh, that must be one of the new ones,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, with “new about forty years ago” left unstated.

So how many UCC people did it take? An uncountable number, by the time you add those who replaced that fixture and tightened the screws some time ago, those who supplied the bulbs and the chair and the desk and the whole place itself by their giving, and the youth workers, and the cooks, and the director, and the secretary, and the visitor who was sure he could replace a bulb by himself, but who managed to do it with a little help from his friends and two hours. It sure felt like home.