Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Church #60. St. Alphonsus Cathloic Church.

Hey Folks! Welcome to Palm Sunday 2016!

As soon as I walked in, I saw the seniors were already seated. The usher directed me to a side door and told me that we were all meeting downstairs first. When I reached the basement, I saw the crowd was 150 people and growing! At the front of the room was the priest standing next to a fold-out table already covered in palm leaves. Just to the side of the priest, was a small choir and a piano player leading the room in song. Amongst the crowd there were many people, but the one who stood out to me was a tall middle-aged heavy-set tough-looking guy and his (roughly) eight year-old son (who clearly takes after his dad). There were two things that stood about about this man, that makes him worth writing about:

#1- He was wearing a washed-out green sweatshirt with the word "TEXAS" scrawled across it.                  Simply confirming that Edmonton, Alberta is truly, the Houston, Texas of Canada.

#2- He was so happy, he was nearly crying...... I watched him standing there holding his son. I am not       sure if it was the joy of the holiday, or the pride of seeing his child participate in the palm ritual,         but clearly whatever was going on meant A LOT to the guy.

Of the many life lessons I have learned in this whole process, is that you can't judge a book by it's cover.

Eventually the choir stopped and the priest said a few words. He opened the Bible and read the The Triumphal Entry from the book of Luke. They blessed the palms with holy water at which point the the crowd approached. As they attempted to select their palm branch, quickly and carefully, in order to not hold others up (needless to say, the whole process felt painfully clumsy).

After receiving their palm branches, the Church members then progressed up the stairs to the front sidewalk, walked slightly around the building, and then re-entered the church through the main front doors. Then we took our seats.

There was a very diverse age and cultural mix at this service. Even for such a large church, it was nearly full!  But all and all, I am not surprised. There are a lot of Christians that "come out of the wood work" for major holidays. So therefore one could only guess what the numbers and demographics look like for an average Sunday. I consider this to be a significant factor for any church I happen to visit during any major Christian holiday.

After the first song, the children all assembled near the front of the church, and then the whole church reached out their arms in their direction, and then sang a short song to bless them before sending them off to Sunday school.

There was a reading from Isaiah and then was sang, what I think is probably the saddest song I have encountered yet. This song is entitled "God why have you forsaken me?". The name sums it up well.

Then the priest, with the participation of others, read through the whole Passion (aka Christ's betrayal, conviction and execution) .

I still can not help but be surprised the things I thought I knew about the Bible and its stories. As children, religious or secular, it is not unusual for us to be familiar with the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt or  Joseph and the rainbow coloured coat. But those stories that we are told as children are small, condensed shrunk down, simplified, PG-rated versions compared to the originals.
But we are big kids now, with alarm-clocks, mortgages, and frosted over windshields (welcome to Canada). And now it is time for us to know, read the original and unrated versions of these stories. To tell you the truth, I have never even read the whole passion out of the Bible until this day. I was surprised by two things:

#1- Apparently Jesus started sweating blood?

Link- Why did Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane?

#2- Apparently there was a solar eclipse on the day he was crucified or "the land went dark"? Reading into this, I have found there is a lot of arguments over what this all was about. Some say it was an eclipse, some say it was impossible, and some say it was all metaphorical! Regardless, it is a cool topic and I suggest reading into it!

But if all that is not enough for you, there was also an earthquake.... yes, an earthquake.
Link- Geological Study May Indicate Earthquake Described by Matthew

Quotes of the day!

"He will not be one with power the normal sense."  
 * the priest pointed out that this is a consistent theme with the messiah.

"It is God's word that will change the world."

In the midst of all this I faced a dilemma. I was clearly sick, with a head cold straight out of the depths of hell. It was discussing and torturous. And now I was expected to go up and accept communion which meant drinking out of the same cup that over 100 people were going to drink out of! Sad to say I simply could not do it with a clear conscience. So despite it being against the norm in this particular church, I opted to take my wafer and dip it in the cup of wine to be able to complete the ritual without endangering others.

For any of the well church-ed or germophobic people out there, I know you have also faced this issue in the past. The Church leaders I have heard address this issue in the past,  have pretty much said "Its fine" and "Get over it and just do it!"
*not to say that all Church leaders would/and or have responded that way.

When I was attending a Ukrainian Orthodox summer camp we were expected to "venerate" or kiss an icon image of Christ as part of entering the church. Some campers raised the issue of spreading illness via this ritual (especially in a summer camp of +100 kids where some one ALWAYS brings strep throat). The priest at that  time assured us that it was safe, and that all the icons were regularly cleaned with Windex.

 And for those of you that get the joke, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is coming out!

Link- My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - Official Trailer (HD)

While I was standing in the line up for communion, I saw that many people were nicely dressed. Considering it was a major Christian holiday, one would almost think it is appropriate. But for as minor of a detail as it is I have to take a moment to question if it was appropriate. I only say this because of one particular man I saw in a very large church. He was also standing in line for communion, but he was clearly different. He was in his 50's, a little shorter then average, and slightly hunched over, wearing work boots, washed out jeans, a navy blue hoodie. He was clutching his bunch of palms, along with his work gloves, tightly to his chest, as he approached the front of the church to receive communion. We all came in our "Sunday Best". He came in what he had.
I am sure he got his share of odd looks.

It is people like this man that make me stop and remember, one of Christ's most important teachings when he said "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16. 

I think we all might do a little better to keep that in mind, if we are to achieve a more considerate and accepting world. 

On a final note there were a few announcements, including the carpet replacement that would soon be happening inside the church. The speaker noted that they have "viewed over 100 carpet samples", and will be taking careful consideration to coordinate with the lighting and the wood inside the building. They also asked for the opinion and input of others on their final choice. 

There were also announcements of the foot washing that would be happening on Thursday. Along with pamphlet at the front explaining commonly asked questions and the churches official statement on the Canadian government's new policies on assisted suicide. 

Photo time! 

This is one of the city's older churches and I am sure by looking at it, that Jesus and Joseph would have really enjoyed the interior. This place bring out the "inner carpenter".

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Church #59. Holy Trinity Anglican Church

....And welcome back ladies and gentlemen!

I showed up a bit late.

It was definitely one of the fuller churches I have seen, I had to move around a bit to find a place to sit. Eventually I got settled in and had a moment to look around. There were 80 people in attendance. Most were seniors, but there was still a noticeable population of young couples and even a few teenagers. The population here is largely caucasian, however I did see a few visible minorities. 

There was a roughly 20 person choir. All dressed in white and red robes, facing each other, front and centre in the church. On a side note... if you have never attended Anglican mass, or been inside one of their churches, I do strongly suggest trying it! If anything, just to see the layout of the building as it is truly unique.

It was already children's time when I got there and the church leader was sitting on the steps at the front of the church with a large group of children sitting around him. He was telling the children about the manna. For those of you that may not know, manna was the food that was provided by God, for the Israelites while they traveled in the desert. Manna is described as being "bread of heaven" or "grain of heaven". There is a description of it in Exodus 16:31... “it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey”. It was also said to have a resin-like appearance. He told the children how it appeared, how it was used to make food, and how none would appear on the Sabbath day. The church leader mentioned how many scientists have tried to come up with an answer on how such a thing could appear in the desert, but none have reached a solid theory. He explained that we should simply accept it as a beautiful gift from God. 

Looking further into this, I have discovered that not only is there multiple theories on what the "manna" actually was, everything from mushrooms, to edible insects has been put up as potential theory. But there was one thing I was not expecting.  

Yes! if you look online you will find hundreds of  "manna bread" recipes! Many culinary crafty people of faith, have put long hours into attempting to re-create the holly bread of the Israelite's. Options range from bread, to cookies, all the way to full on deserts!

Fun fact!- the word manna; when translated from Hebrew literately means "what is it?"  

I found the sermon very interesting today. Not so much so the analysis of the day's scripture, but what interested me was a personal note from the Church leader. He spoke of the daily lives of pastors and all of their busy duties. How they are always writing sermons, preforming weddings, baptizing babies, leading funerals etc. And then he referenced a famous essay called "Can pastors be saved?" and in this essay it comes to the humorous conclusion that pastors can not be saved. My may be asking saved from what? As far as my understanding goes, part of the answer to that is pride. He spoke of how much this Church thrives. It currently boasts a large and growing congregation, a prosperous children's church, strong involvement with the arts, their own theatre productions, and they even get media attention on occasion! I personally can tell you that in the last 58 churches I have attended, this is not the norm. I think the speaker was also fully aware of this. He explained that in his life there appears to be a line. On one side of it, is his commitment to the service of the people, and God. On the other side is Pride in the churches achievement. He shamefully admitted that "I have crossed that line many times before." and how he must strive to stay on the right side.

Sometimes, even the pastor needs to check himself at the door. 

On a side note; this church leader also reminded the room that this church will share the table of God with anyone that is baptized to receive the bread and wine. "This church has no further requirements beyond these". And looking at the crowd in this place, that is probably a good thing. I might just be throwing out assumptions, but I am sure there is more then one gay couple, and likely more than a few gender-diverse people in this church.

I was a bit confused on where this Church stands on its acceptance of the gay community. The impression of the air in the room was we don't judge. The churches website didn't seam to offer any clear answers ether. After further research I discovered that there are currently ten dioceses within Canada that will provide a same sex marriage ceremony, and others that with provide a same sex couples blessing.

After that one of the Church leaders came down and there was a blessing for a lady that was celebrating her 91st birthday. It was all quite fun. Following was a quick point mentioned about the church's current project to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Then the Church got up and offered the sign of peace to everyone in the room, shook everyone's hands, and greeted them.

If there is one thing I have noticed about Anglican churches in general, it is that nothing drags. These places are structured and move like clockwork! These services move from A-to-B-to-C and then DONE!

After the offering was collected, we got to enjoy the vocal talents of a young lady singing a Hymn. The reason this is significant to me, is that I have heard some bad hymn-singing in my life. Like.. really bad. And when it is at a 4-hour Orthodox Sunday service. It can downright painful. Thank you for renewing my faith in this art of hymn-singing!

For those of you that are not familiar with this, please enjoy the video as an example!

As mentioned before, this Church drives heavily into the arts and the population reflects that. I saw many people in the room with funky hairstyles, trendy fashion, and fun-colored eyeglasses. I am sure that almost the majority of population of this church has some type of full-time or part-time investment in some type of art or performance style. It almost feels like going to church with the Fringe .

After that the church received communion. There was an option to ether receive it kneeling or standing. The communion wine was real wine, and it was one of the better ones I have had so far. It was well rounded sweet red, with rich earthy tones. It was honestly really good. I would have gone for a second glass!

The building its self is quite elegant. And it includes the typical ceilings that resemble the hull of a boat flipped upside-down.

And as always...I will never miss an opportunity to photograph St.George the dragon slayer!

Have a good week y'all !!!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Church #58. Rio Terrace Community Moravian Church

Hello Sunday, I see you are back for another week!

Today I took a bus ride out to the west end to visit a church located not far off of the #4 bus route. I had to walk a few blocks after getting off the bus, but I didn't mind. When I arrived I could tell that the church was already in the Easter spirit. It was once said that you can tell a lot about a man by looking at his shoes. I think the same can apply for churches.  Quite quickly I noticed three things about the members of this church: they like quilting, interior decorating, and house plants....clearly. This Church is comprised of mostly seniors, but there are still a handful of parents with children.  There were roughly forty people attending the service today.

**Side note: this church has an exceptional high quality sound system and the pastor wears a mic. I would recommend this church for the hearing impaired.**

Also I enjoyed this weeks program cover. My grandma would approve of the chickens. And Luke 13:34  is one of my favourite bible quotes!

 ".....How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings..."

After a few announcements it was children's time. The pastor then left his podium and went over to the children's corner and sat on the rug and read them a story. He explained that this was "A story about how Jesus wants children to be leaders." and at the end he asked them "How can you be a good leader?" 

Another fun side note: there is a young man in this church that has pledged to not cut his hair while collecting donations for a cancer research. He plans to make the bulk donation and cut his hair soon. Needles to say he is looking particularly shaggy at this point. One can only speculate, how irritated his mother must be with her son's long and unruly hair. Hold in there Mama!

The pastor asked the room three questions: What blessings have they received in the past week? What they need prayers for? and Where they have seen the holy spirit at work? Not every church has this practice, but I never cease to be amazed at the things I learn. When asked where she had seen spirit at work, a lady proudly proclaimed (almost with a tear in her eye) that she has a young person with down-syndrome in her life, that took three bites of a peanut-butter sandwich recently. 
She acknowledged that to many people, that would be something totally insignificant. But to the parents of that child, it meant the world! She went on to explain that down-syndrome children are know for being exceptionally picky eaters and have deeply restricted diets that further compromise their health. A lot of them are also known to have "junk food problems." But this young person who has now added one more (healthy) food to their diet, is a great blessing to this family. 
"This is a break thru!" she proclaimed.

The scripture discussed today was Mark 10:32-52 (ESV)

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

The Request of James and John

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[a] 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave[b] of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

He noted how James and John asked for a position of privilege (that Christ had no authority to give), to sit at his right and left hand in Gods kingdom. In short; "They wanted to be Lieutenant Messiah's". 
After a brief pause of silence, he said "....I thought that joke would go over better." 

Regardless... we got a good laugh. 

I am told that you can really tell the personality of the disciples by reading their works.  Some books of the gospel have details smoothed over, while others are very up front and tell-it-like-it-is. The pastor commented on the Book of Mark, and how it is kind of meandering, and all over the place. He acknowledged that he too, is a meandering thinker, However the fellow he is married to (yes, you read that correctly) is an engineer and a very linear thinker. He acknowledged that there are many different types of thinkers in this world and "no way of thinking is better then others," 

Then something happened that I did not expect. The pastor brought up the issue of social privilege based on race, gender, class etc. 

I looked at this a a pretty bold move. Considering Alberta is the conservative center of the country, and he is giving this speech to a room full of 50-65 year old white educated middle class citizens. But I think I need to remember what kind of environment I am in. This is a Moravian church. Moravians are generally known for being fully accepting of the LGBTQ community, and this church itself hosts multiple people from the gay community. This church is currently sponsoring a muslim Syrian refugee family (they had a little display set up with pictures and information). This is a pretty progressive environment. Maybe I should stop panicking? 

If you are still trying to wrap your head around this whole white-privilege thing, here is a good comic that explains it. White Privilege Explained
As for me I have no denial of my state of privilege. I am a white, english-speaking, educated, christian, third-generation Canadian that comes from a middle upper-class family. The only way you could possible put me higher, is if I was born male.

I know I have privilege. I have friends of all different ethnic, gender and religious backgrounds, and I can tell you that I am lucky. I am lucky because I don't need to work extremely hard to attempt to get a job over equally or less qualified white applicants. I am lucky that my family doesn't have to reformulate their diet to be as simple and meager as possible, just to survive. I am lucky I can go out to a party or a bar, or walk down the street, expressing my own gender, without being under high risk of assault or being murdered. I am lucky I can wear an item that expresses my faith in public places, that I will not be questioned, criticized or harassed over regularly.

These are real description's of the daily lives of people I love, in the year 2016 living in North America. The struggle is very real.

Beyond all this, I think the pastor's speech didn't hit the target properly. Not because of  race and status. He was addressing exactly who he needed to be addressing. The issue was age. He stood before the congregation and pointed out a lot of clear points on why we have life easier then say, the visible minorities around us. Which I think most of were very true....except for one.

He mentioned how a lot of us had our education paid for by our parents. He was addressing a room of 65 year old's. Now I am not sure about you, but I don't know anyone that was enrolling in college in (roughly) 1969 and had a free ride from their parents. People generally didn't have as much money back then. I think this speech would hit home a lot more in a room full of 25 year old's. Trust me when I say, I know may young people buying beer every Saturday night on mommy and daddy's trust fund, while in university.

Random Fact:
There is a not-for-profit cafe run by the Moravian church out in St.Albert. And they are looking for volunteers!

Over all I had a good time and received a tour! I also discovered that this church had used it's back yard to open up free community garden plots for the public. Before I left I grabbed a picture inside the body of the church. I had to do it quickly to avoid disrupting the yoga group that was using the space at that moment.

Have a good week Y'all!