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Sunday: Three Churches

I’m starting to find where I can connect so I can post. For now, to catch up, I’m going to do a few short pieces to cover the last few days.

It poured rain this morning as I walked to get coffee and a roll — couldn’t find the café where I had a large, good, inexpensive breakfast yesterday. It was still raining when I got to the monastery for 9:00 communion. The service was lovely, as always. Antiphons at every possible place; a choral piece while the congregation was asperged (I;m not sure we needed it, God had already done that), a set of Carl Daw words new to me to Sine Nomine. There was incense, votive candles, and the congregation and brothers were friendly in a slightly impersonal way.

Then on to Boston to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I was to meet Steven (one of the priests with common cathedral).. I was there as they finished the 10:00 Choral Eucharist; lovely, big choir, congregation about 35 fewer, and smaller in their space than at SSJE. I was invited in for Eucharist, but declined and sat to listen. The person who invited me in is one of the regulars at common cathedral, catching strays at the back of the Cathedral service. It wouldn’t be fair to comment on the welcome; I didn’t give them a chance, just listened to the music.

Then I went to find Steven, the priest celebrating common cathedral today. He was there — young man with a collar — and started introducing me to people: MaryAnn, who always asks whether she should carry the cross; Chris, at a desk; Jim, the sexton; Lauren, the intern who’s almost finished; Bill, the musician; several others. All help set up; some are newcomers, like me. I repeated their names, shook hands, talked about weather and where I’d come from, but I don’t remember any more names. I recognized some as having been there when I visited in September. Steven showed me where common cathedral is given storage space to keep the rolling altar cart (it once held chairs) a second cart with urns used for juice and water, the musician’s chair and music stand.

Because of the rain, common cathedral will be held on the porch of St. Paul’s, at the top of a set of steps. We roll the supply cart up to street level on a long internal hallway ramp, then carry things up the steps. The altar cart has to go up an elevator to the main floor and out the front door of the cathedral to set up on the porch. Altar guild made simple: the frontal is folded and stored inside the altar. Then two clear plastic bottles of grape juice stand on the altar, as do two wooden plates with communion bread (it is bread). And the service book, sheets all in plastic sleeves against the weather. That’s it — no linens, no candles, no flowers. The priest’s stole is also stored in the altar.

During the common cathedral service (which starts with Kumbaya), the congregation participates: they hesitate, then someone steps forward to share a thanksgiving for a home, a request for prayer for someone’s mother, a story. Perhaps half of the circle steps forward to share each time. I don’t have the whole rhythm of it down, but there seem to be three such times in the service — the last of them, response to the sermon.

I am struck by the very different friendliness of this group. Anyone who comes forward and speaks is given praise, encouragement, empathy. Those who don’t are sought out and offered Eucharist, especially those who aren’t part of the circle but are standing beyond it, or moving in and out of it, or standing at a distance but present. The passing of the peace is a movement of the whole group. Some are tentative clasping a hand, but they mostly look at each other as they do so and most seem eager for the contact and the greeting.

Somehow the street church was the welcoming one. I was being introduced as here to spend the month with them, but other newcomers, other stories were more exclaimed over. What do they have that we don’t have, that this is something so difficult for us to do in a housed church?

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