It’s 6am Easter Sunday morning, and I am waking slowly from deep sleep to the cat kneading my pillow. It’s raining. So this is how it starts; gently at first, with gloves, until the Halleluiahs begin.
I lie snuggled in under my doona with my eyes still closed, and visualise the church, visualise my singing and how it will unfold. I always think this is why I am so tired; everything has to be played out in my mind first, and then for real, ha.
My husband cooks us an early breakfast and I in turn cook our youngest son his own breakfast before he goes to work; fried eggs with rocket, mushrooms and tomato. Taking the plate from me, he walks into the lounge room to eat it by himself. Then I am driving through the soft rain to my first port-of-call, St Barnabas at Red Hill.
After this service I hope to join my friend CJ for her church service in Ashgrove.
It’s going to be a busy day. Arriving at my Anglican church, I am expecting a packed service, but there are -if anything- even fewer parishioners than normal.
Old John, my pew friend- is missing.
Fr Tom rushes in before the Service begins, all handshakes and cheek kisses to his flock, and they warmly greet him with cries of Happy Easter Father Tom; and I also twinkle him with my fingers to say hello, but make no move to come closer, I am happy where I am.
The organist, her hair still pony-tailed up, recognises me, and we greet each other with a grin. I can see lots of hymns which I know, and as she softly rehearses each one, to my delight I find that I know most of them. Whew, I do want a good sing today.
Fr Tom comes over to say hello, and introduces me to another woman about my age, in fact she tells me, it was her 46th birthday yesterday. Her name is Wendy, and we chat for a while before the Service begins. Behind me is another couple, the man I instantly recognise, but from where? We remember that our children both attended Milton State School together about 10 years ago, and very slowly my mind clears and I remember he also took over from me as P&C President. In fact, I recall, my oldest son was school buddy to their young son, and we happily reconnect and chat about old times.
The first hymn begins to the tune of ‘Why was he born so beautiful, why was he born at all?’ and I stifle the urge to burst out laughing, oh dear, it’s going to be a long Service at this rate.
I totally nail a few halleluiahs!
Soon we are into the swing of things, and my new friend Wendy and I catch eyes and grin at each other across the aisle.
Old John finally shuffles in, very late, and he smiles and says “Happy Easter Patty”. I am thrilled he remembered my name, and relieved he is here. Safe.
The ritual unfolds: the calls and responses, pages flipping from 129 to 147 and back again. The chosen psalm today has the line “This is the day the Lord has given us, let us rejoice and be glad.”
It was dad’s favourite saying, and he said it most days. I glance at my watch occasionally, I am going to be late at this rate if we don’t get a hurry-up, and I can imagine my friend CJ turning around in her church waiting for me to arrive. Thoughts of leaving early begin, but I push them aside, I can’t: my loyalty is here first. Then it’s Communion, and returning back to my pew, Frank holds out a cane basket with mini Easter eggs in it. I take one, and unwrap it. The one hour Service goes for one hour and 35 minutes and I bowl out of the door and into my car, with a flurry of smiles and air kisses.
I am on my way driving westwards; to Ashgrove and a Catholic service; to be with my friend. I owe her one Service, as she kept me company in Rockhampton and attended the Anglican Church with me when we did our road trip together.
I wonder what dad would say about going to Church twice in one day (and one of those a Catholic church!) , but I don’t care, I haven’t been to Easter church for years, and I am making up for it today. He would be pleased, and see the humour in it.
Arriving ten minutes late, the Service has begun, but the crowds! They are huge, milling around outside, seated on hastily brought in pews and extra seating. Most of the people still stand, unable to see, or hear what is going on. That’s not for me, I didn’t come to stand in the garden, I want to see, and hear everything, and I will.
I make my way upstairs, pushing gently through the younger crowd.
Looking to my left where the choir sit, looking for CJ’s hubby Ron, (I know he is going to sing today) I spy a woman (dressed in red) I also recognise, and she points to me and indicates to sit beside her. Blankly, I turn around, looking behind me, until I point to myself and question her.
Me? Yes, you, come and sit here.
Grateful, I bunker down beside her, and with the next hymn try to read the small print on the Power Point, a response chorus to Ron’s leading voice. A long white ceiling light – one of twelve -spins in lonely circles. Small children stagger with dummies in their mouths; fathers wander in and out to quietly change nappies, woman fan themselves.
I can see the back of CJ’s hair - she is to my front right - and when the time comes for “Peace be with you” I shake a couple of local hands then surge forward like a ruby player to pump CJ’s hand. She is delighted and we are both so happy to be together, in church.
Why have I started going to church? I honestly don’t know, it’s something that has occurred to me; an awaking, and something that I enjoy doing; for the time being. I love the literature, the music, the memories, the architecture, the company, the tradition, the artworks and the sense of common history “binding us together in his love.”
It could be worse!
It’s now leading up to Communion, and the Priest sounds like a race-caller He says everything in one nasal sentence: “wearetheonebodyforweallpartakeoftheonebread” and without pausing for breath, or effect; he gallops onwards racing towards the best part of the Service. If Fr Tom had spoken this fast, we wouldn’t have been so late, ha.
We gape, Abba-like, to his words.
Do you want forgiveness of your sins? I do.
Have you forgiven others?
I do. I do, I do, I do.
To my delight I can see CJ standing to attend the wine part of the Communion, this is going to be fun, I think, and I motion to my red-bloused friend Robyn that I will take my communion ‘over there’ so CJ can administer to me. I feel very humbled. It’s an odd thing to have two friends do, and I have to think about it for a while, later.
I am almost the last in line, and I cross myself and take my bread from the Priest, and make my way towards CJ. Unlike the Anglicans, where the priest comes to you, in the Catholic Church, it’s up to YOU to go to the various stations of bread and wine. There’s about a teaspoon of wine left in the chalice, and I am very careful not to take too much, just a wetting of the lips, really.
I sip. We grin. Another memory.
I make my way back to the pew, weaving through the crowd.
After Communion, CJ finds me and we sit together for the final hymn. Would you believe it, the same words “This is the day the Lord has given us, let us rejoice and be glad.”
Ron turns around from his leading-voice-in-the-choir-position and hisses to me, “Don’t go afterwards, there’s cups of tea downstairs” and I know he will do a fabulous job of the morning tea: he always does; I have not only seen the photos, I have arranged them into Church newsletters for him. His silver camera dangles from his side pockets, ready to use.
Then it’s over, two Services in on morning.
The Catholic service finishes early and we make our way downstairs to see Ron and have a cuppa.
I ask Ron for his camera instead of having a cup of tea, all I can see is coffee, (the pots are still brewing) so I slowly make my way around the huge crowd of parents and kids and babies and laughing robed priests and baskets of Easter eggs and large trays of jam and scones and people hugging and total strangers to me and take images of their Easter Sunday Service.
I am a walking time machine, snap, snap, smile, snap.
Time to go home, and enjoy my lime margaritas.