17 August 2009

St. Luke's pitches nearly perfect game

Sunday, 16 August, I had a unique experience. First, I had a "free" day from the church job. It was the first Sunday in about 45 years that I have not been sitting on the organ bench playing during the service.It was a treat to just be a "regular" person.

Second, I attended church with a group of people from the "church job" who are unhappy with the present direction of their leadership. They dislike the "if only the right music is used, led by worship teams, then our membership will skyrocket" insanity that three very powerful people in that congregation want. So, we went to the Episcopal Church of St.Luke. I was asked to go with them to act as guide. It was a wonderful experience.

When we arrived we learned that the Ordinary, the Rt. Rev'd Mary Gray-Reeves, was making her visitation. When we stepped inside the vestibule we heard the sound of guitars tuning up. One of my friends remarked, "we are going to get guitars here, too." I had to laugh. As it turned out, we had a mix of organ and guitar (and mandolin and violin and harmonica!).

We found a vacant pew and filled it. As I knelt I asked God to make this a wonderful experience for my friends and that I would be open to what I needed to hear from God. I asked that (for me) because I have a "problem" with our bishop. Within a few months of her consecration she had an opportunity to act upon her words of full inclusion and she backpedaled and thereby lost my respect as a person.

The mass began and the music wasn't bad. The congregation belted out the hymns and service music. It was really great; I mean, it was really great! The congregation even belted out the psalm tone.

The first lector was a young boy named Jaron, who is twelve-years old. That young man did an unbelievable job! He read the lesson as if he were telling a story (which he was, of course) with emphasis on the right words. His phraseology was perfect.

Bishop Grey-Reeves began her sermon and I thought, "Okay, Jim; listen for something from God; don't let what she did impede what God might say to you." And, I'm glad I made that wee "arrow prayer" (I wonder, is that term used anymore or was it just Life in the Spirit jargon?)

The bishop, being a woman, brought a unique angle to the gospel about eating Jesus flesh if we wish to have eternal life. She talked about her pregnancy and how the mother feeds the fetus. She talked about how the baby will take everything it needs from the host body without the host doing a single thing. She compared that to Jesus teaching in the gospel for the day.

She went on to give several examples from the Gospel of John and after each example, she said, "Hey, that sounds like pregnancy, doesn't it? .... what does that sound like? ... Humm, that sounds like pregnancy ... You must be born from above ..." It was really remarkable, actually. I shall never think of John's gospel again as anything except the "Pregnancy Gospel." The next time you read John, think of the gestational period as you read each of those stories.

After the sermon I experienced the Thanksgiving for the Adoption of a Child for the first time. When i was a child, I was present for several "Churching of Women" but this was the first time I was present for this particular service.

I was struck that, the deacon took the wee bairn, from the parents at the back of the church. The deacon carried the baby to the sanctuary and handed it to the bishop. The parents presented themselves at that point. After the Thanksgiving began, the bishop asked the parents if they would accept the child, and of course they did. At that point the bishop handed the baby to the adoptive mother. At that point I began to cry. It was such a symbolic act! I interpreted it as God giving the child to the parents. Does anyone know if this "hand off" is part of the ritual or was this some innovation on the part of this "chick bishop?"

The offertory hymn was Lord of All Hopefulness. Well, one can't go wrong with that hymn! But for me, it has a major significance. This hymn was the opening hymn at Peterborough Cathedral the morning I had my "reconversion" to the Anglican Tradition. Singing it yesterday brought back a flood of memories. The guitar group accompanied the hymn and gave it a real Irish flavour. It was wonderful!

The rest of the mass was really great. Particularly the communion hymn I am the Bread of Life. The roof levitated and it was partly due to the hymn itself and partly the wonderful leadership of the musicians. I've always liked this particular hymn but, I shall never hear it or sing it again without a strong memory of yesterday at St. Luke's. It is too bad that this wasn't the closing hymn; even "For all the Saints" would have been wimpy after that magnificent communion hymn. (Unfortunately the YouTube version does cannot compare with what we experienced.)

After mass there was a reception for the newly confirmed members. During the reception a recorder trio played expertly. My friends and I stayed for about ten minutes to listen to the music under the trees. It was a perfect ending to the mass.

My thanks to my friends who asked me to be their guide, and to the people of St. Luke's in Atascadero for a spectacular and deeply spiritual mass. It was nearly perfect.

Take a moment to visit their web page as listed above. But, how about searching for St. Luke's with GoodSearch.com. It generates a bit of cash for St. Luke’s. Go to GoodSearch.com and type in St. Luke's Atascadero.