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.
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.