Friday, April 14, 2006
Anne was determined that we were going to go to a church service on Good Friday. Unfortunately, I had had a rather sleepless night the night before so I woke up a bit after 8am. But when I did, there was Anne hovering over me all dressed up for an outing -- complete with red sandals. So I knew it was going to be a happening morning.
Most churches have their Good Friday services at a rather unearthly hour from my point of view but somewhere deep in the ratlike recesses of my brain was a conviction that the Prebyterians would be more humane about such things. So after a good face-washing, a hot-cross bun and a cup of tea we headed out in the direction of the Ann St Presbyterian church, which is for both of us our old church.
I had hoped for a 9.30 am service but it was unfortunately a 9 am service so we were a few minutes late in arriving. As we were walking from the car to the church however I sang the Doxology by myself -- so that got us started in proper form. I sang it in full voice so it is lucky the streets were fairly empty at that hour. Anne of course is used to my eccentricities. We arrived about half way through the opening hymn, "There is a green hill far away", so I was a bit peeved at missing the whole of such a good hymn.
Much to my surprise the old church was packed and we had to do that which all churchgoers avoid -- sit up the front. Sitting up the front meant however that I noticed a few things I had not noticed before. In particular, I was a little surprised to see a plaque beneath the pulpit bearing the legend: AMDG. I thought that to be a bit "Popish" for a Presbyterian church but I suppose Latin is the property of all humanity. It is of course an ancient ecclesiastical abbreviation for "Ad Majorem Gloriam Dei", or "To the Greater Glory of God".
The congregation was of course mostly elderly but it was pleasing to see some young people there too. There were even a few babies! And there was one lady wearing a rather impressive big black hat. It is amazing how hat-wearing seems to have gone out of style among women in congregations these days -- from Catholics to Jehovah's Witnesses. Very strange in the light of 1 Corinthians 11:13. The minister, Archie McNicol, wore his academic gown throughout of course -- though supplemented by a large and attractive royal-blue stole. Wearing an academic gown is of course an expression of the traditional Scottish reverence for education.
Mr. McNicol gave the expected long opening prayer in his delightful Edinburgh accent. There was rather a lot in it that I liked. His petition that people be saved from the "delusions of the Devil" certainly made it clear that we were not in an Anglican church. There is plenty of that sort of lsanguage in The Book of Common Prayer but it is not heard from any Anglican pulpits these days that I know of. Though perhaps you would hear it in the Sydney diocese. Mr McNicol also very traditionally prayed for blessings on the Queen and the members of the Royal family and prayed also for divine guidance for the "authorities that rule over us" -- An allusion to Romans 13: 1, of course. Particularly pleasing however was that he prayed for members of the armed forces overseas who were fighting "for freedom and liberty" -- A genuine appreciation of reality that one expects from a conservative Christian.
You will note that I refer to the minister as "Mr". That is the Presbyterian way. Presbyterianism is a very democratic form of Christianity -- with the congregation and its elders being supreme rather than the minister.
Being Easter, it was of course a Communion service and in the modern way all were invited to partake. But although I have much more appreciation of traditional Christian culture than most atheists do, I did not. I am not that much of a hypocrite. Nor did I join in the recitation of the Apostle's creed or the Lord's prayer. I certainly joined in the hymns however, and our final hymmn -- "Rugged Cross" -- was one of my favourites.
Rather oddly, throughout the service, the organ was supplemented by a solo violinist and, instead of an organ voluntary at the close of the service, the violinist played "He was despised and rejected" from Handel's Messiah -- which was great to hear.
When we got home, Anne cooked us some smoked haddock for a late breakfast, which was at least very Scottish, though not, of course, to everyone's taste. We had it with toast, Rotkohl and pickled cucumbers.
Afterwards we put on Bach's Passio secundum Mattheum, with Fischer-Dieskau singing baritone. You can't get better Easter music than that. When we got to the great aria "Mache dich mein Herze rein" ("Make my heart pure") I was moved to tears as I usually am when I hear it. The combination of supreme Bach music rendered in the incomparable voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is just too perfect.
And so began our day.....