Sunday, February 22, 2009

St Mary's – West End.





Sitting on a small hilly rise, in the setting sun and a slow Sunday afternoon, St Mary’s waits for my friend CJ and I to arrive. Outside, agitated flags flap, and people congregate to talk and chatter and exchange news.

There are two dome tents set up either side of the entry. They look expensive. Next to them, t-shirted women lean placard signs against their shins.

FATHER PETER FOR POPE.

They discuss politics of the Church.

Inside, the building is gloomy and dark; people shuffle to find a good seat. CJ wants to sit to the back near the door for coolness, but I want front row. I have come to watch, to witness, and so I shall.

A Church lady – a kind Church lady – brings 2 folding chairs for us to sit on. We are both impressed with her welcoming manner, and sit close to the front, instead of on the ground. I just can’t sit on the floor for extended periods now.

We both have a printed out Service to follow, and so we sit and people-watch until the time has come to start. People continue to flock into the room. Seated behind us are a couple who have travelled down from Toowoomba, they too are Anglican like me.“Anglicans rock!” shouts the man to me, I grin and make the V peace sign to him. Odd thing to say, really, but we are all here to see and witness and support in our own ways.

Older men in various stages of baldness, young toddlers in various stages of behaviour, a small white fairy-bride girl dances around her seated mother, placing a rainbow bracelet on her head like a crown. The mother beams. To my left, another bub, his hair kissed in blonde down. To my right, two young girls looking fashionably un-trendy; there, a boy on the threshold of his teenage angst, skin so smooth is glows in the afternoon sun. He looks interested, alert. I wonder what he will be when he grows up?

Such a selection of humanity sits before us.

I see Fr Peter over to the rear of the Church, speaking to various members of the community. Helen Abrahams is there (I think it’s her anyway) and chats, Sam Watson is there, taking up room of three people in his pew.

I take photos and email them to myself. And then we begin.

Aunty starts the Service with a welcome to country. She appears apprehensive and shy. She welcomes us to her land under the various tribal names. She has trouble remembering them all. Smiling sheepishly, she explains she is nervous. Although it’s a nice touch to be welcomed, I wonder if it’s all necessary, really.

Someone speaks into a mike, and the crowd start clapping madly, I can’t see who is speaking, but the mood is energetic and charged. Fr Peter also welcomes us, but I can’t see him either; everyone is standing; it’s a sea of heads, I can’t see the man I really came to see. We are all asked say hello to the person next to us, expectations are high.

Soon we are into the swing of things, the usual responses, hymns and so on, we stand and sing Alleluia, it’s lovely, I throw my head back and “sing loud” enjoying being in the flow.

We are asked to hold hands. I grab the woman next to me, and we strangers pray together for this and that. Five hundred people breathe in and out as one.

Breathe in.
Out.
As one.

Interestingly, we say the Lords Prayer, the old version, the one I know and love. A radical Church saying the Old version, love it.

Then it’s Communion time, and I crane my head to watch the proceedings. Shocked at what I am seeing, not Fr Peter Kennedy, but some other young bloke wearing a stole and holding the alter bread up high.

“We are the body of Christ, for we all partake in the one bread.”

I nudge CJ. Look. Look! Is he a priest? He must be, he MUST be, surely. I continue to watch. Several stations are held to distribute the bread and wine. I move up to receive my communion, but the wine is over there, and there’s no way I can realistically get to it. A disabled man in a huge wheelchair holds the bread wafers for the communion. I am not in his queue, so my bread is given by a tall man. I am half blessed today, I didn’t receive the wine. Another day perhaps.

Then it’s homework time, Fr Peter says “I am a media star, I am a media tart!” and I nod and hiss to CJ, “boom boom”. He is loving it, the crowd clapping everything he says, everything he sings, they clap in between fanning themselves, to the rhythm of their heartbeats. He has even taken singing lessons for a solo he croons us with. It’s extraordinary stuff, this singing priest and his offshoot, the pony tailed bloke with the communion. They are an act, laughing and playing off each other like comrades.

He jokes “I did singing lessons because I might have to give up my day job” and the crowd love it.

They even have a cd of songs to sell! A few more plugs, a young girl pleading for sponsors to shave off her hair for cancer, a cursory nod to the bushfire victims, but not really, even though it’s a nation day of mourning. This evening, as lights flicker on finally, it’s all about St Mary’s and the poor-bugger-me attitude. We are all victims.

We sing a final song or two; my foot tapping in time, my hips start to sway in a figure eight, despite myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved” and at the last paragraph I place my words on the seat and sing loud, clapping in time.

I have joined them.

I wonder how it will all end.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Patty.

1. It's St Mary's not St Mark's. Getting this basic but important fact wrong highlights the rest of the ignorant tone of your article.

2. Expensive looking tents!! Give me a break. Let's say they were the most expensive tent going around. Lets compare that to your inner city abode shall we? The poor just aren't as poor as they used to be eh?

3. Dis-respecting local indigenous elders for their lack of public speaking skills is scraping the bottom of the barrel. I'm sure this lady didn't have the education like many non-indigenous Australians have had.

Mocking her by name is disgusting.

Is it necessary to recognise the original Australians at the beginning of the mass? Not dis-possessed enough; let's make sure they don't rate a mention. Let's just say this is culturally insensitive, to say the least.

4. Peter Kennedy is not an ego out of control. He and the rest of St.Mary's community were not the ones who brought this about. It was the Archbishops decision. It is perfectly legitimate for Peter Kennedy and St.Mary's to have a public conversation about their point of view. Peter Kennedy I'm sure would rather stay out of the media and continue with his work than to fight a public relations battle with the Archbishop.

5. The current situation at St.Mary's was brought about by more conservative Catholics attending mass in order to be outraged and then writing to Rome. I can't help feel that you are doing the same thing. Projecting your own conservative biases rather than taking the time to understand and appreciate the community. You can no more understand our community with your one visit than you could understand a car accident by rubber necking as you drove past (taking photos with your mobile at the same time).

I happened to meet my Wife at St.Mary's. 2 of my children have been baptised there (only to be told that it is no longer valid), I would like my 6 week old daughter to be baptised in the same church as her siblings, and by church I don't mean building.

There is much good that has come from St.Mary's, I can attest to that.

Please keep this in mind on future visits to St.Mary's. To which you I'm sure you would be welcome. Just leave the mis-conceptions at home.

Patty said...

RETWEET: I MUST HAVE DELETED THIS FIRST POST, APOLOGIES.

Woops anonymous, you are right of course, 1.it is St Mary’s, I was tired, it was late, I apologise.
2. I didn’t hear the woman’s name, and I didn't want to get it wrong, so I called her Auntie Whatsi-dotsie and an obvious reference that I didn't know her name.
3. I didn’t disrespect her? I said she was nervous and apprehensive, and she said herself she was nervous, I thought it was very human.
4. The tents are better than mine, lol.
5. Yes, dis-possessed, I get it, I get it, just wonder who much longer we have to beat ourselves up, and move on. Stop playing a victim.
6. Fr Peter Kennedy kinda is out of control, I think he has the tiger by the tail, and cannot get out of his situation with grace and style. The church IS the people, not the minister.
7. It was the Archbishops decision because some little squealer couldn’t cope, I understand, he is in a hard place too.
8. Lots of people were taking photos, and videos. You didn't notice the cameraman at the rea, with a sound bloke holding the mike? Or the woman on the alter, taking images too> C'mon, it's history.
9. I don't think I have "conservative biases" in fact to my kudos, I actually got off my arse and went to see for myself. Actually I liked the whole service, except my neck got sore craned to the left the whole time, lol, and I missed out on my wine, I felt half blessed.
10. I have fought many battles too, Boothville Hospital, Milton State School, I admire the passion and vision the Church has, good for them.
11. I put my name to things, anonymous.
12. Thanks for at least reading it, good healthy discussion is always welcomed. :)

Patty said...

PS Anonymous: did you read my last sentance? "I have joined them."

I also said:"There are two dome tents set up either side of the entry. They look expensive."

That isn't a critisim, merely an observation.(and anyway, I wonder why the tent embassy is even there, what's it got to do with anything? If the aboriginal people have a treaty with the church -the church is the people, not a building - the good work will go on, the same as it does everywhere all over Australia. Fr Peter isn't the only one who can be kind, helpful, open and welcoming)

I also said: "a kind Church lady – brings 2 folding chairs for us to sit on. We are both impressed with her welcoming manner"

and:"Although it’s a nice touch to be welcomed"

as well as:"the mood is energetic and charged"

not forgetting:"we stand and sing Alleluia, it’s lovely, I throw my head back and “sing loud” enjoying being in the flow."

also:"we say the Lords Prayer, the old version, the one I know and love. A radical Church saying the Old version, love it."

besides:"We sing a final song or two; my foot tapping in time, my hips start to sway in a figure eight, despite myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved” and at the last paragraph I place my words on the seat and sing loud, clapping in time.

I have joined them."

Really, I don't know what your prolbem is Anomymous, at least I came, I saw, I got involved.

Thanks again for your comments, they are always welcomed on my site, but don't just look for the negative in my story, it was just a report, as I saw it, not how YOU saw it.
:)

Darren Flood said...

Patty,

Look I was pretty fired up when I read your post this morning. Hence the numbered list. After reading your replies I have moderated my views a bit although I'll continue to disagree on a couple of points.

Certainly agree that discussing it is good. And it is better to have visitors like yourself, especially when you are prepared to openly discuss your views and experiences.

Anyway, I'll stick with the numbered list for a bit. This is in repy to your reply's numbered list not my original one. [getting complicated now]

1. Fair enough on getting the name confused. That was not the thing that fired me up, but I couldn't not mention it.
2. I'm not an expert on this but I would suggest you could have called the lady an Auntie or just a Female Elder. Your wording could be viewed as dis-paraging. That's how I took it.
3. OK
4. I actually wasn't there on Sunday. The kids usually have a bit of a free reign, which is one of the practical benefits of attending St.Mary's. Not so helpful with 1500 other attendees though. I do attend fairly regularly and as I mentioned in my post, I have had some fairly important events happen there so do feel I am in a position to post a comment. There are a lot of homeless people who sleep at St.Mary's. I mean in the bushes down the side, wherever they get shelter. The homeless are very good at being invisible, they are hard to spot at St.Mary's too. I see their blankets next to the church. I see them sleeping in their cars when I park there to take the Kids to GOMA on a weekend. St.Mary's does a lot of work for these people (as do many, other churches and others) but this is shelter for some homeless people. After mass sometimes you will see Peter Kennedy organising accomodation for people after they have waited for the church congregation to disperse. Having not seen the tents though they could have been for homeless people or just as easily the Green Left Weekly, who I think just like a confrentation with authority whenever it's on.

5. A black armband view of history. I caught your other posts today and it would seem that you and your family have had more interaction with Aboriginal people than I. I don't think I have a black armband view. I have to admit that I don't know what the solutions are to the many problems faced by Aboriginal Australians. I do think they have suffered long and hard and there is no shame in recognising historical facts of their plight. But I think this is another topic that we could discuss for some time.

6. I think Peter has got himself a David and Goliath struggle on his hands. I'm hopeful though considering how that one worked out. I don't think he would have wanted it though. I think he is 70 or there abouts. I have thought many times how he could have made things easier by being more diplomatic or compromising but I give him great credit for standing up for his beliefs regardless of the consequences.

7. I agree ABB is in a hard place too. But he has been as hard line in his views as Peter. So here we are.

8. No probs with the photos in particular. I was having a go at you for your motivation for taking them. I was harsh on you there. Social Media has as much a place as the taditional media. I think you do a good job in this area.

9. You did go. Kudos. You responded to my comments. Kudos x 2.

10. I like that St.Mary's tries things even if it is un-orthodox, even if it's messy. Like any community it has it good and bad points. It is sometimes uncomfortable but often quite uplifting.

11. Fair point. I probably would have not posted if I was going to put my name to it. I would have waited until I cooled down, I would then probably not have posted which means that we wouldn't have had the discussion. From a social media POV I think anonymous comments should be encouraged, it's a good way to get the party started in your comments section. Nothing like a bit of controversy. But now you've called me chicken so I'll put my name to this post ;)

12. Thanks for replying. Thanks for not moderating your comments section. Thanks for coming, blogging and tweeting.

Cheers, Darren.

Patty said...

Darren, firstly, huge hugs to you for coming back and continuing our discussion, well done, I am proud of you.

1. Thanks for forgiving me the name, just a slip of tiredness, now fixed.

2. Yes, you are prolly right, it was a quick draft I posted at 11.30 last night, as I was worried I would forget the details, today I added a few more, I am sorry, perhaps I will edit her name to simply Aunty.

3. Cool. I thought she was sweet.

4. I would have attended Sunday morning but had 2 other things to do, joy! Was so happy to go with my road trip buddy Chris Jackson though, we had a great time and enjoyed it. I dragged her to an Anglican service in Rockhampton (you will have to scrool down and poss go to archives, look for Jan/Feb this year) so I kinda owed it to attend a Catholic service with her. I don’t regard this as a service however, this was history! *raises fist. I will go to her little suburban church in a few weeks time, and will prolly blog my experience there too. Again, if you scroll down, you can read my St Barnies visit at Red Hill. I think the tents were for the aboriginal tent embassy. They DID look pretty flash, my scouting sons would be envious, and yes, we are a camping family, lol.

5. Dad always wanted the aboriginal people to embrace their own culture, by re-introducing bora dancing to LRM and allowing them self government and employment. He was an amazing man, but would be worried that we are too chest-beating in not moving forward. Ultimately, we need to recognise the past, but walk strongly to the future. I saw a school program the other day who’s motto was “strong and proud” or something. Brilliant. Not feeling sorry, but marching proudly into the coming generation of Australian society. Head held high.

6. I think Peter is over his head, and is looking for a way out. Heard on the radio that perhaps they might send in a mediator, think that’s a great idea, that way they all save face.

7. He has to answer to the Pope. Ekk! *faints. Poor bugger, my friend started work there today with him, what a baptism of fire she will get.

8. I take photos of everything Darren. I truly do. can’t help it. Hubby just bought my a little Canon gold number (so it doesn’t get mixed up with my sons’ Canon) so now I can video with a bit more quality, cant wait, been charging it all day, so excited.
9. Thanks.

10. Yes, I remember after Godspell had been to Rocky, dad and I hot housed an idea to take out all the pews and have a rock band in the church, a la 70’s style to “reach the youth”. Well, you should have heard the commotion from everyone else. Sheesh, anyone would think we were sacrificing chickens. Dad got into big trouble, it’s just the way it is. The way it was.

11. I love that you had fire in your belly to even take the time and passion to post. I just love it, we should be having this discussion on my deck over a chardy.  It’s all good. We are both well meaning, passionate people, that’s a good thing. *Did I call you chicken? I don’t think I did, lol.

12. Thankyou Darren, you not only posted your thoughts, but you came back, I am thrilled. Thrilled! Please come again, and this time we can shake hands and have a good robust discussion. No one is right or wrong. Hugs!

Cheers, Patty.
PS. Will now edit Aunty. :)