We can’t become Catholic. Between papal infallibility, transubstantiation, and the call to ordination being limited to less than half the population, there’s some insurmountable philosophical issues that would prevent us from conversion. But if we were Catholic, we’d probably go somewhere like the Community of St. Ann’s.
We also ran into someone we know this morning. Spokane is not that big a place, so this was bound to happen, but except for attending Foothills and Southside and Life Center with the Baldwinis*, and meeting up with an editing client I knew attended Valley Assembly, we haven’t run into too many people we already know, but it’s been particularly pleasant to run into familiar faces as we’re feeling a bit disconnected from community.
I think one thing that’s really telling about the community of a liturgical church is the passing of the peace. If you’re not familiar with liturgical traditions, most masses have two parts: the reading of scripture (which also includes the sermon), and the Eucharist (communion). The passing of the peace is sort of a “half time.” It’s technically at the end of the first half, but it’s often a melee that seems like it’s actually a third part. In many churches, you simply turn to the people closest to you, say, “The peace of the Lord” or “Peace be with you” or just “Peace,” and shake hands or hug — depending on how well you know the person you’re greeting. Then everyone sits down.
At other churches, like St. Ann’s, the passing of the peace involves quite a bit of movement, the priests and music team circulate all the way to the back of the nave, and, in a congregation of (I’m guesstimating) 150-180 people, you greet 1/3 to 3/4 of them, and it takes the better part of 7 minutes. We didn’t leave our pew, but were warmly greeted by quite a few folks, including a number who noticed we were new.
When we first moved to Raleigh, NC, at the end of the 90s, we started going to church at the nearest Episcopal church to our apartment. When it came time for the peace, the priest said, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you.”
The congregation responded, “And also with you.”
Michael and I stuck out our hands to greet people, and whooomp!, everyone sat down.
Michael leaned over and whispered, “It’s the only time in the service where Episcopalians are obliged to speak to each other, and . . . argh!”
We ended up at a longer-peace church, though, at the time, that wasn’t our reason for that congregation not being a good “fit.”
St. Ann’s uses Breaking Bread, which is a hymnal and missal combined, and is the short version of the one used at St. Aloysius, Breaking Bread with Readings and Dailies. They’ve also modified a number of the responses and songs without noting it on the handouts, so it’s a little difficult to follow. But they do some really neat stuff: A number of the service music pieces are in both Spanish and English, and they sing in both. Both men and women serve at the altar — and preach — which we were surprised to see in a Catholic setting. The priest also prayed, at the beginning and the end of the service to “God, the father and mother of us all.”
They didn’t talk about it this morning, but there is a current African theme, with animal statuary in the windows, 9 African outfits adorning the nave, and a large poster with a map of Africa in the front. St. Ann’s has a history of social justice outreach, so this was not surprising, just very colourful. They were also, according to the priest during the announcements, “scheduled to serve lunch” — which I think is an outreach program next door in the parish hall. The congregation is a diverse one, reflective of the East Central neighborhood it is located in, as well as the parishioners who drive in from other parts of town.
There were two sermons this morning, one by the priest on the topic of being loved, and the second by a woman on the topic of family, and invitation to the table. Now in her late 30s, she’d become a ward of the state when she was placed in foster care in her teens. She entered college feeling out of place and alone, and sought the guidance of her priest, who pointed out that those she ate with were her family. “You don’t eat with strangers or enemies; you eat with family.” And he instructed her to give thanks, quietly, in her heart, everytime she sat and ate with them. It was through this practice that she came to redefine family to include those with whom she did not share blood.
The sermon was poignant and moving, but we were once again attending a communion we felt we could not partake in. And there’s a bit of heartache mixed in with the irony of listening to a sermon about widening the tent, about stretching the soup, about the invitation to the table — only to follow it with a fenced communion. We suspect that there were plenty of people (and perhaps even the clergy) who would not have minded including us, but they did not make an invitation that went beyond the instructions in the front of Breaking Bread, which read that they’re happy to have folks from other churches they already have agreements with (Greek Orthodox, etc.) as long as their bishops approve, but beyond that — protestants and non-Christians are fenced. It’s a bit bittersweet, a fenced communion.
They have great (which is to say, fresh) donuts at their coffee hour, which is not high on my list of requirements for a church, but fits in well with my thought that if they church is going to throw a party, it ought to be reflective of the Kingdom of God, and not an afterthought. I had an instance once, where, as new member, I signed up to do coffee hour, and was asking about the particulars of what I needed to do (did I need to make the coffee? what was involved in cleaning up properly? how much food should I bring?), and the woman I was talking with said, “Oh, just bring a couple boxes of crackers and some cheese. Or some cookies. They don’t need anything fancy.”
I think that mindset bespeaks burnout, but so often the “old guard” is reluctant to let anyone else step in to do a job they now despise . . . . And that’s heartbreaking in its own way, because not only does the old guard only do a half-assed job at things they now hate, they’re also in the way and stomping out the fire and passion newbies bring to any organization. I don’t know who’s in charge, but St. Ann’s has huge boxes of fresh donuts with their coffee — not stingy cut donuts, or stale donuts, or some scary donut holes that someone grabbed out of the freezer, that are desiccated and still frozen . . . no, these are huge boxes of fresh donuts.
It’s coffee hour after church, people. You’ve already acknowledged that God is present in the worship. Unless you think He’s slipped down the block to the afternoon full-Gospel service, He’s probably still present for coffee hour. How much different would the church be if we acted like it?
*not their real name