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Sunday, March 27, 2011

World Church

World Church
Whatever Gets you in the Door

The kids and I attended services today at St. Mary's Anglican church in Mt. Maunganui http://mountanglican.org.nz/. We'd been worshipping at another Anglican parish in neighboring Tauranga (Holy Trinity), but I've missed the simplicity of the traditional service and decided, for today, to return to the smaller church. Also, St. Mary's is just 5 minutes from the house, and HT is a 15-20 minute drive. We were running late. Practicality and punctuality (if you count being 5 minutes late as punctual) won.

Several dozen people sat on cushioned powder-blue pews for the 10 a.m. service at St. Mary's. It was a mostly white-haired crowd, sprinkled with a few under 50's and even a 15-month-old baby with a thatch of dark hair and gorgeous long eyelashes. He crawled around the carpeted floor, charming the crowd during prayers. Finley made friends with another 5-year-old boy – they ran to the parish hall to play ball. Fiona sat quietly in the children's corner and colored a picture with the caption, "On the second day, God made the sky and the water." She wrote around the page's perimeter: "I love Fiona I love Finley I love Mum I love Dad." Fi asked before the service if Sean had gone to church with us. "Yes, sometimes," I said. A lapsed Catholic, he said he mostly came for the cookies. That last part was only half a joke, but as my Aunt Leslie says, "Whatever gets you in the door..."

We've walked through open doors of several different Anglican churches during our world tour. For me, it's as much about connection as it is worship. I want to taste the familiar not just in the form of wine and wafer, blood and body of Christ, but also in the guise of Christian hospitality. I expect church people to welcome us, because that's what church folk do. It's what Christ did, right? We've been applauded as visitors, eaten countless biscuits, drank liters of coffee and tea, attended a potluck as the sole guests, fielded invitations to groups, outings and classes. I expected these things would happen. I need connection. Whatever gets you in the door.
The American Church in Paris

At the American Church in Paris, http://www.acparis.org/ we met Haiti's bishop in the sanctuary and several other Americans at coffee hour. At Westminster Abbey in London (where Prince William and Kate Middleton with marry next month) http://www.westminster-abbey.org/, a woman sitting behind us complimented my children's rare show of quiet respect. She said, "You have the most beautifully-behaved children." I looked left and right to ensure she was talking to me. "Thanks," I said. "Scooby Doo helps, too." Fi and Finn had been watching Scooby while wearing earphones. Whatever gets Mom through the service.
Westminster Abbey, London

At Holy Trinity in Kalk Bay, South Africa, Fiona and Finley attended Sunday school. It was November, and the kids were practicing for the Christmas pageant. Fi and Finn were excited about the possibility of becoming flying angels, strung up on a wire. "Sorry, guys," I said. "We won't be here for Christmas." We were there to see the parish priest perform a rendition of The Butterfly Song, complete with arm motions and bum wiggles:

...If I were an elephant, I'd thank you Lord by raising my trunk
If I were a kangaroo, You know I'd hop right up to you
If I were an octopus, I'd thank you Lord for my fine looks
But I just thank you Father for making me, me
Holy Trinity, Kalk Bay, South Africa
More musical memories from Holy Trinity, this time in Tauranga, New Zealand http://www.holytrinitytauranga.com/ : It's the first Anglican church we've attended where a rock band, not an organ or piano, sets the tone. A drum set and electric piano sit on stage. A large woman leads the band, swaying and singing while pushing a hand through wavy brown hair. We sit in theatre-style cushioned red seats in an auditorium.
Holy Trinity, Tauranga, NZ

A simple wooden cross hangs above the stage, potted ferns on either side. Beside me, an elderly woman sings in falsetto: "Glory to you, Lord God, high above all else." Her hands jut in the air like Superman. Several rows ahead, on the other side of the aisle, a 20-something Indian woman catches my eye. She's stunning in a yellow-and-white sundress, black cardigan and long, silky black hair tied back in a ponytail. She dabs her eyes with a tissue. Is she crying? In front of her, I see four older folks in the "Superman" pose. I look at the church program to make sure we are, in fact, at an Anglican church. We are. It's an evangelical Anglican Church. I'm still trying to learn what that means beyond the obvious: No evidence of pipe organs, vestments or pews. 
Holy Trinity, Tauranga, NZ

The Book of Common Prayer is apparently reserved for the traditional 8 a.m. service. I do know HT offers Sunday school each week and a singles group. And the people are awfully nice. Even though it doesn't have the high-churchiness of my home parish, St. John's in Spokane. I could probably do this for awhile. Also, they serve coffee and biscuits after the service. Whatever gets you in the door.

It's impossible not to compare world church experiences to "our" church in Spokane. We are blessed with a massive Gothic cathedral, stained glass, enormous pipe organ....beauty that rivals the cathedral we visited in Paris. I started attending St. John's for the architecture. stjohns-cathedral.org/  The stone, the glass, the massive wood doors – beckoned me inside. But I kept opening those doors because we found community - friends, mentors, people of all ages genuinely interested in our family and helping us grow as Christians. They've watched my children sprout from belly bump to babes to boisterous kids who run the aisles like they own the joint. They cheered with me when Sean left the rehab hospital for a few short hours to attend the Christmas pageant. They wept with me after he died. And all along, they cooked, cleaned, comforted, babysat, visited Sean in hospital and prayed for us. They're praying still. I am so looking forward to reuniting with my church family.
St. John's, Spokane, WA U.S.A.
As a former journalist and confessed skeptic, I can't lay the case for God's existence (although I know many of my smarter, more learned friends can). I can state the case for the existence of God's people. We've found their hang-outs around the world. They worship Christ and pass the cookies. Whatever gets you in the door.

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