Old folk at lunch

Friday, March 21, 2008

An interesting Good Friday

Although I am no longer a believer, I greatly appreciate the Protestant Christian traditions into which I grew up and which formed a big part of my teenage years. So I still like to honour the holiest days of the year -- Easter and Christmas -- by going to church.

In recent years I have oscillated between going to the Cathedral (Anglican) and my old church (Ann St Presbyterian). I feel very comfortable at Ann St but the Cathedral has magnificence going for it. As well as for services I also go to the Cathdral (St. John's) for classical concerts two or three times a year so it too has become a very familiar place to me.

This year, however, the Easter services at both were a bit pesky. Ann St had moved their service from 9am to 8am and the Cathedral service was at noon: Too early and too late for me. So Ann and I decided to go to the local Lutheran, which had a 9am service.

I had never been to a Lutheran service so I was slightly surprised to find that it was a little "high": Rather like an Anglican service. The first intimation of that was that the pulpit was off to the side and the altar was central. And the organ was in a loft at the back. The more common Protestant configuration is for the pulpit to be central with the organ behind it -- expressing the twin importance of the word and of music. And the Lutheran minister was dressed in a long white robe! And the service included a lot of responses: Almost unknown in Presbyterian churches.

Another thing I noted was how well organized the Communion was. People went forward and left in batches and each batch got a little address from the minister as well as the tokens. The usher who organized the batches did so without a word being uttered: Just a bit of eye contact, nods etc. It was rather a good demonstration of how much culture we share that he was able to do it all in silence.

And it was very pleasing to see that the congregation was not all elderly. There quite a few young families with their children. Even some little blondie babies! That the minister is also young may have something to do with that.

I was slightly disappointed that we had only three hymns but the ones we had were good and appropriate. We had, as usual, "There is a green hill far away". That hymn always moves me by its simple faith and devotion. But memories of it go back to my childhood so maybe sentimentality has something to do with that.

There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.

O dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
and trust in his redeeming blood,
and try his works to do.

But there were three things that quite amazed me: There was no collection and the minister did not attend at the front of the church to shake hands with the congregation as they were leaving. And we sang the hymns sitting down! Is there no end to novelty?

Anne was quite pleased with the service. She still seems to have some residual beliefs. She seems to have the old Calvinist belief that "It was all planned out before we were born". I remember my mother and my aunties saying the same. It is a perfectly scriptural belief (Ephesians 1:5-12) and is even honoured (Article 17) in the 39 "Articles of Religion" of the C of E -- albeit in a cagey sort of a way. One does not hear that belief preached in the pulpits these days but it lives on in the families and among the people. It seems to be a comforting belief but I myself have never subscribed to it at any time.

A shared cultural background is quite an important thing. Anne and I have it in spades. For instance, not only is her background mainly Presbyterian but she and I are former regulars at exactly the same Presbyterian church -- Ann St., Brisbane:

So, although I have never been even slightly impressed by Calvinist predestination doctrine, it is nonetheless part of my background from childhood on and Anne's attachment to that thinking is therefore a positive rather than a negative for me. It feels familiar and "at home". Though I do tend to be a little amused by it. But I was amused when my mother said it too.

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