Sunday, February 24, 2013

St John's Anglican Church

I wanted to go to a Greek Orthodox church this week. I'd caught a cab home on Thursday after dinner with a friend, and the cabbie was telling us about his heritage.

Are you Greek Orthodox? I spat at him excitedly.

Yes I am.

Is it true you're allowed to drink at your church?

This is my previous knowledge of Greek Orthodox - a relaxed bunch who don't mind a drink or two. I asked the cabbie if I could go to his church and he said sure, but not to expect him there - it wasn't Christmas.

Turns out, it isn't that easy to go along to a Greek Orthodox church. They've got a website that lists locations, but not mass times. I contacted the Reverend but he didn't get back to me. I drove by the church on Saturday and there was no sign out the front.

I had two options; get there at 6:30am and hang around until something happened, or go to the Anglican church down the road.

I made the right choice.

St John's was warm and inviting. Although I slipped past the welcome team, the layout of the church itself was so open and light that it made me feel totally comfortable heading in and grabbing a seat. I'd been there about thirty seconds when an older member of the congregation, Marion, came over and asked me if I'd been given a "Gratis". She told me she was going to "sack those girls" out the front for not doing their job. I laughed (because she was clearly joking) and said it was fine; they were having a nice chat amongst themselves.

"They're not supposed to do that," she grumbled and I smiled. She was at ease with me - it was refreshing. She asked me where I was from and if I would like to sit with her and her friends. I declined, because I wanted to be able to make my notes and not bother anyone, but it struck me it was the first time in this quest of mine that anyone has invited me to sit with them. I hope she knows how much it meant to me that she offered - even though I declined.

After the announcements made by the Reverend, a young man presumably in his early thirties, we stood and sang a song together. It was a five verse hymn, and it felt like we were singing a Christmas carol. We were accompanied by an acoustic guitar, electric bass and a piano. These musicians weren't trying to be rockstars, they were very comfortable taking a back seat to the congregation. I could hear the Reverend singing along in the front row. He sang with enthusiasm and a genuine heart of praise. I liked him.

We then prayed together from a prayer on the screen. It was explained that we read along to the text in bold. It was these little hints that made me more comfortable than I had been in any other church so far. It didn't matter if you didn't know what to do - they'd help you out.

There were several bible readings throughout the service, read by different members of the congregation. I was thinking about these readings, and how they really stand out from my previous experience of church.

In my old church, sure we read the bible - we loved the bible. But we'd probably look at one or two verses, and they'd be discussed in detail, offering an interpretation of its meaning, and a "real life" application. The opposite of that, is to read a large portion of scripture, and then just sit back down.

I'm seeing pros and cons of each method. Taking a scripture out of context can be risky - you can probably swing it to whatever meaning you want it to have. You can provide a false interpretation, which is damaging to your congregation. But without being able to apply the "Word of God" to your life, it's just words surely. We might know that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, but unless we understand what he was trying to achieve here, our real life application is to go out and offer foot baths to strangers.

The sermon delivered by Rev. Phillip was an interpretation of the Beatitudes and how they can be applied for "living a heavenly life on earth". I felt like he was reaching a nice compromise between over interpreting the bible, while still helping his congregants use the scripture in a practical way. Although at some points, I must admit I did think he was using the scripture to make his point, not making his point with scripture - if you can pick up on the subtle difference.

Regardless, I thought the Reverend's passion, and his big smile, were infectious.

There were probably about fifty people in St John's church, but when they were invited to "share peace" around, they all got out of their seats and walked around the hall, shaking hands, smiling and saying "peace be with you" to any one they could find. At least ten people came up to me, with such grace and sincerity. I couldn't help but smile and say "peace be with you" back. I wondered why every denomination doesn't do this. It is just the best. If you're not Christian, even if you don't believe in God, what a wonderful exercise to shake the hand of a stranger and wish them peace. Marion, of course, made a B line for me and gave me a lovely hand shake and introduced me to the people near by.

Communion was issued to the congregation by their coming to the front of the room and kneeling at the altar. If I was looking for a modern act of humility, this could well be it. For communion the adults were offered a gluten-free wafer and drank from the cup of wine and the children were given a sticker - too cute. I enjoyed watching the two littlies in front of me proudly show off their stickers to each other.

After the service I was greeted by Lisa, the Reverend's wife. Lisa introduced me to a a few other congregants who again seemed comfortable to be talking to a visitor and genuinely interested in who I was. I was able to tell them that I planned on writing about my time at their church, and they were all interested to read it. I had a nice chat to Reverend Phillip himself about how my journey had led me to them on this hot, summers morning.

It was so liberating to be able to talk freely to a group of people I had known for such a little time, but the people I met at St John's were kind and warm. And I assured them I'd definitely come back and visit again.

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