Monday, June 28, 2010

St. George's "Anglican" Church on Sunday Morning...

It's Monday now, here in Hyderabad.  I just got back from our morning walk to the little park down the hill from us, right next door to the Stone Valley Apartments - it has an iron gate that I can close behind us...and it's the only place I feel relatively safe letting Bee off-leash to run around.  Oh, she can run around our yard when the gate is closed, too...but she ends up torturing poor ol' Scooby, and then the whole neighborhood has to listen to the big guy howl for five additional minutes!

I only mention all of that to get to this point:  Today is far-and-away the nicest day, weather-wise, that we have had since we arrived in India!  The skies are clear and blue, not a cloud can be seen.  There is a nice breeze in the morning - and - I think it's probably in the mid-80's.  It's not quite 10:00 A.M. now...and you can tell it's going to get hot...with a chance of rain later today and tomorrow. says it'll get to 101 F. later in the afternoon! is the detailed account of my yesterday's trip into the Gun Foundry District of town, to attend services at St. George's "Anglican" Church".  FAIR WARNING:  This post contains what may be construed by some people to be derogatory comments about women "priests".  This commentary is my own, it is as Theologically and Biblically sound as it is Orthodox - and is not meant in any way, shape or form to be derogatory towards women!!  My beef, of course, is simply with the notion of this modern Anglican/Episcopal family of churches who believe, quite mistakenly, that women can even BE "priests" in the first place. 

Anyway...this is  MY if you think you even might be offended - go write your own blog and "p--- off!"  In the meantime... please click away now!  Thank you!

While Amy was on her "Road Ride" (BTW...she returned safely this morning after her "second round" of street riding in Banjara Hills!) - Naseer arrived at 8:45 A.M. to take me downtown to St. George's.  I was mistakenly told by a closed-gate security guard two weeks ago that there was an "8:00 A.M. service and a 9:30 A.M. service."  As it turns out...that was bogus information.  The one and only service begins at 8:00 A.M. !!!

Now you may ask yourself: "Why in the world did Father Kingsbury put the word "Anglican" in quotation marks here??"

Well - the full-telling of that story could fill and entire I will spare you all of the gory details.  In a nutshell what has happened is this:

This is 100% my abbreviated version of the "history lesson" I got from The Rev. Zaccheaus Katta, the "Presbyter in Charge" of the parish.  If there are any historical inaccuracies, contact me and I'll change them!!The Church of St. George, as it stands right now,  is 100% "Anglican" in its style of worship - - 1662 Book of Common Prayer all the way...but - you must realize that they seem to quite dislike the term "Anglican" here... as they are not overly keen on "the Brits", in general, don'tcha know?! The originally named "Anglican Church in India" was dissolved in 1947 with the establishment of the Republic of India. Then, it became "The Church of South India"...which was formed as an church, complete with it's own Bishops, and independent from the Crown and the "official" Church of England.  But, you see, as always happens in Anglicanism of any stripe... it didn't take very long for the left-over Anglican Bishops and the C.O.S.I. Bishops to begin fights over property rights.  Sound familiar?  So...over the decades they fought and fought and fought - and in Hyderabad, the fight was over the building of St. George's, and eventually, they went to court (Wow!  Imagine that...they really ARE Anglicans!!)  Well, the whole legal mess took almost 35 years to resolve...and it's still not all the way settled. Whatever Indian Diocese this Church is now in (N.B. - it's waaaaay Low Church!) has only had the building for 4-months!!!

Anyway...back to the Church Review.  I cannot rightly call this one a "Mystery Worshippers Report" - as I attended the service in my black Roman-style cassock and collar.  Let's just say that my presence was - ummmm -  "duly noted" from the start!!

Naseer dropped me off at what I thought was an "early" time for the 9:30 Mass.  As we pulled into the gates and pulled over to the parking ever-knowledgeable driver told me: "Your service is over there, sir.  They are fixing the Church..."  And indeed, the main Sanctuary is under a complete renovation process at the present time....I was taken inside to see the progress (after the service) - and it's going to be BEAUTIFUL!  Gothic but classically Anglican...but with the choir-loft in the back like St. Mary of the Angels.  High ceiling, beautiful apse with big Gothic windows (the stained-glass panels are out for restoration and storage as well!).  And great acoustics!!  Wow!

As I sat down with Fr. Zaccheaus in his office for Indian breakfast (More on this, below.  My Amy swears I'm going to be the first one to get sick...but I doubt it!) and cups of very strong, very sweet coffee after the service, I heard from one of the lay-leaders that there were going to be 17 ceiling fans (the electrical was already stubbed-out!) - sixteen of them in the nave, and one over the Sanctuary.  Also (I think this one was Father's idea!!) - a small but powerful air-conditioning unit in the Sanctuary as well!!

Anyway...the building being used for the service is probably the Parish Hall...but it was nicely apportioned and had pews and a beautiful wood altar.  On the altar, the classic green super-frontal and the standard-issue (but still beautiful) IHS Cross (with no Corpus) and two matching candlesticks.  Outside of the narthex and nave, under a big canopy, were an additional 50-or-so plastic chairs for the overflow congregation.  And there were probably 15-20 people outside!

Still standing outside of the building, I took a position standing at the back of the rows of plastic chairs (how very Anglican!) - but that plan lasted only about a minute!  A lady who was probably an usher of some sort saw me standing there and immediately motioned me to come inside to sit down.  There were a few spots available...but she showed me to a seat right next to a sweet-looking older lady in a saree and her head was covered, seated - but obviously praying.  The pews were comfortable - wood - with cane/rattan seats (theY are NOT going back in the main church!!)

As I smiled at the sweet little lady and sat down, I grabbed one of the two books that were in the pew (one was a small hymnal with words but no music - the other was a Holy Communion and Evening Prayer booklet - straight 1662 Book of Common Prayer!) ...I could hear that they were doing the Great Litany.  A young lad from the choir (up front in this arrangement!) was perfect tone and accent (very British sounding!) - the Litany...the same tone I've heard 1,000 times!  It was really beautifully done! (It was a strange place to do it turned out that the Mass was 3/4 over and had actually begun at 8:00!!  I was over an hour late...and they were still just at the pre-Communion prayers!! It turned out that they were chanting the Litany in place of the "Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church"!  I think the 1662 BCP allows for this, if memory serves...)

As the Litany wrapped up in the traditional way (good, loud and in-tune responses from the congregation!!) - I began to take in the "lay of the land", liturgically-speaking.  The Celebrant was vested much more like a modern Episcopal or RC priest would be.  White, hoodless "cassock/alb" and a green stole, worn pendant.  No Mass vestments.  No Sanctus Bells.  Certainly no smoke!!  But still, because of the clear recitation of the BCP ritual and Traditional ceremonial (Celebrant facing East!!) - it was classically Anglican, no doubt about that. 

The Choir was well-practiced and sweetly sang the old Hymns!  Two that were not in the Hymnal, but in the back as Xeroxed addenda, were done as the "Communion Hymn" and the "Post Communion Anthem".  They were "He leadeth me" and "Amazing Grace".  A "real" (not pipe...but still!) organ and a violin accompanied the choristers, some younger, some older.  A good blend of voices.  Very, very sweet!

The Celebrant read the entire ritual, including the "Comfortable Words" and the "Invitation to Confession"as he faced the people (a pet peeve of mine, but, whatever...) - he had a great speaking voice. Classical British/Indian-educated accent.  I was getting a very warm feeling of familiarity...the kind only a good ol' Traditional BCP Holy Communion Service can give an old Traditional Anglican Clergyman in his heart.

Then...all at once, just before the Communion began...I saw her.  In Sanctuary, in albus, in green pendant stole...a "priestess".  She had been sitting in an Epistle-side chair (about where the sedillia in St. Mary of the Angels' Sanctuary would be...but actually against the wall...) - just out of sight from my rear-of-the-nave, Gospel-side pew.  I felt a wave of...well... I'd say first... "sadness".  Then, a bit of "anger" (that quickly's not MY parish...),  Then a wave of nausea.  Then resignation.  I thought to myself... "Well, Father...there'll be no Holy Communion for you this morning..."

I sang the Communion Hymn with gusto from my spot, as the usher made his way back from sanctuary-to-narthex, as happens in all Anglican parishes...allowing one pew at a time to come forward to receive.  Slowly, he made his way back to where I was sitting.  The little lady in the silk saree (and now her husband, too, who had joined her...) - got out of the pew and went forward.  I did not.  The usher motioned for me to come into the center aisle, but my rear-end stayed glued to my pew and I just smiled and nodded as pleasant a "No, thank you..." as I could muster...without using words.  He grunted something and walked back to the front to receive his own Communion.

As the Post-Communion Hymn was started ("Amazing Grace") - the original lady (also in saree) who had motioned me in to the Nave came and leaned over the couple beside me (who had returned to their spots). 

She said something in a heavy accent that I didn't clearly understand...  I believe what she said was "Pastor would like you to come up..."  I was correct....that's exactly what she said.  I smiled a big Fatherly grin and said "No...I'm sorry...I can't receive Holy Communion here..." - and did not specify the reason.  She looked quizzically at me and stepped away...but only for a moment...

This time she said: "On, no - it''s not for Communion...Pastor wants you to say the closing prayer!"

Oh, dear.  Now what to do??  See "rock".  See "hard place".  See Father squirm!

I thought quickly, and I think the Holy Spirit led me to do the right thing under the circumstances.  I excused myself to the lady and her husband sitting next to me, stepped over their knees and into the center aisle... and followed the usher lady's lead.  I figured to refuse would be really rude under the circumstances....and besides - I had already made my statement by not receiving Communion.

I bowed as I entered the Sanctuary.  I then noticed that the Blessed Sacrament was still on the Altar, ready to be "reverently consumed  Wow.  These people do not "T.A.R.P." - that's right outta the 1662 Book!  I had taken a spot, right next to "her" (our "priestess") - near the altar horn, Epistle side.  I placed my right hand on the altar and genuflected solemnly.  When I got up, I caught the "priestesses'" eye for just a moment.  In that short few seconds, she gave me a look up and down, saw my Romish cassock and my reverence for the Blessed Sacrament...and with one glance her eyes and countenance said: "Uh, oh...this guy is pure trouble..."

The Celebrant (Rev. Zaccheaus Katta, B.A., B.D., S.W.A., M.A. - "Presbyter in charge") motioned for me to come over slightly and stand beside him.  He pointed to an open "Mass Booklet" on the altar...and asked, sotto-voce, "Can you read this prayer??"  I looked down and saw that it was the "General Thanksgiving After Communion".  I smiled at him and said, "With my eyes closed!"  He handed me a small black lapel microphone at the end of a wire, which I clipped to the front of my cassock.  I briefly glanced at the "priestess", who was still standing there, glowering at me!

At the appropriate time, I began, as I have done thousands and thousands of times:

"ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby...."

Anybody who has ever seen me Celebrate any Mass, Low, Missa Contata or Solemn High, knows that putting a microphone on Father Kingsbury's lapel is overkill of the first order!  But I read as clearly and deliberately as I could...ending with...

 "...through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen."

As the violinist in the choir began to play the opening notes to the Recessional Hymn (some sweet version of the 23rd Psalm with a catchy melody!) - - he shot me a wide, toothy grin, which I returned wit h an added nod of my head.  Then, we lined up in procession.  I felt conspicuous in just cassock, but away we went, down the center aisle and to the back of the church.  When we arrived at the rear door (no real Narthex in the parish hall arrangement) - Rev. Zaccheaus shook my hand and thanked me...and invited me to his office after for breakfast.  I agreed and thanked him for asking me to assist.  I told him I was T.A.C. and I believe he knew what I was talking about.

I turned to my left, and to be charitable and brotherly, I smiled as best as I could...reached out my hand to shake the "priestesses'" hand and even said the words "Thank you for the warm welcome..."

She gave me a look of "shooting poison darts"... coming out of her dark eyes.  "The Rev. Mrs. Priscilla Rueben, M.Com., M.Phil., B.D., M.Th" then proceeded to give me one of the hardest and chilliest looks that I have ever seen, turned on her heels without acknowledging what I had said...and walked briskly back up the center aisle towards the Sanctuary!! 

I thought:  Whoa!!  All those degrees...all that schooling...and they never taught her any manners???"  I just shook my head and smiled.  "So it's going to be that way, is it?"

(N.B. to Fr. Beau Davis: Of course you have to know that I immediately thought of that delicious tale of Barbara Harris' response to the hearty "good morning, Barbara!" offered-up by one of the SSC Fathers at the PECUSA General Convention many years back:

SSC Father: "Good morning, Barbara!"

"Bishop" Harris: (harshly, while putting out her cigarette and turning to walk away): "F--- you!")

After the "shock" wore off (NOT!! LOL!!) - I shared a lovely time, an Indian-style breakfast (Amy swears I'm going to get sick from all of the "experimental" eating I am doing here...I think that she is wrong...I feel "protected" somehow!) with two small paper-cups-full of hot, sweet, strong coffee..and some wonderful  fellowship with some vestrymen, Rev. Zaccheaus himself, a nice lady who guided me by the hand outside to the parking-lot to pray for her son.  He was a sweet boy, about 25-or-so...who had a whithered arm from some malady.  He said that his mother "always wants him to go to church...but that he prefers "temple" (he's a Hindu..."mom" is a convert to Christianity)

I prayed for him, I laid hands on his head and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.  I whispered to him... "Your mother loves you.  But you keep seeking God, my son...and He will find you!  I guarantee it."

Then he did the sweetest (literally!!) thing I have ever seen. He reached into his shirt pocket and offered me a wrapped piece of Cadbury's chocolate.  With a heavy accent he said: "Mother says sweets are only to be in moderation.."  He grinned widely...and I could tell by the look in his soft black eyes that refusing the chocolate would be taken as an I thanked him, unwrapped it, and ate it right there. 

The friendly "usher-lady" then came and found us in the car-park... and she sort of "rescued me" (I think the mother and son wanted to take me home!!)...and proceeded to give me the Grand Tour of the renovations going on inside the main Church.  As I said's going to be awesome when it's done!!

Returning to the parish office, which was a busy, busy place...Rev. Zaccheaus was sort of "holding court" - still in his white cassock-alb.  He then asked me how I liked the traditional Indian breakfast (I told him I loved it!).  He then gave me the brief history of the Church in India (which I digested, above...) and asked me, point blank, if I would be available to come back and assist from time to time.  I begged-off of that question a bit...admitting that I had yet to hear from Archbishop Prakash...hoping that he might understand from what I was suggesting...that having a "priestess" on his staff was a "deal-breaker" for me.  I thanked him again for the warm welcome...and walked straight out into the courtyard and found driver Naseer, still parked under a big tree, snoozing away!!

You know...I'm a bit sad.  It's really too bad.  Such a beautiful church and wonderful people.  And so very Anglican!

But a completely warped theology of Holy Orders that is simply beyond what I could ever accept in a home parish.

And you know what?? ...I never saw "The Rev. Mrs. Priscilla" again!!

No comments:

Post a Comment