Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Real Donnybrook In Church - Anglican style!

I've really been having a spiritual struggle on Sunday mornings.  I guess calling it a "spiritual struggle" is a bit of an exaggeration... but I do have to make a new and careful decision every Saturday night as to which Mass I will be going to with Krishna on Sunday.  The local Masses that I enjoy going to are at different times and in different parts of the city, so some planning and foresight has to enter-in to the weekly decision-making process.  There's St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Gun Foundry District, which has several English-language Mass choices...(including one at 6:30 P.M.!!) - and is always very nice nice.  So is the little RC church here in Banjara Hills, St. Alphonsus (and it's by far the closest parish to our home.)  Regular readers of this blog will know that my favorite church so-far has been St. Mary's Church in Secunderabad.  I'm not a huge fan of the Novus Ordo Mass...but they seem to do it with grace and a lot of spirit...so this is where we go most of the time.  Krishna quite likes it.  We are definitely planning to go there THIS Sunday for the Feast of the Assumption (August 15th) - which is also Indian Independence Day as well as being St. Mary's Patronal Festival!  This Sunday there will be a "Pontifical Solemn High Mass" as celebrated by the Archbishop of Hyderabad, The Most Reverend Marampudi Joji !  I want to get there early to get a good seat.  I'll bring my camera...there will be hundreds of plastic chairs filled by the Faithful throughout the courtyard for the 9:30 A.M. Mass!!

BUT....today's blog is about what happened this past Sunday at "St. George's" (which, since there is no TAC parish within 300 Km. of where we live, is the closest thing that can pass for "Anglican" - actually "Church of South India" - anywhere close to here).  In case you don't recall - - this is the church that I went to only once since we arrived in Hyderabad...and where, although I thoroughly enjoyed the liturgy, I could not receive Holy Communion because there was a "priestess" in their sanctuary.  Here's a link to the blog post I wrote about that fateful day!

St. George's is also in the Gun Foundry area.  I had told Krishna to expect something special when we went back (I was hoping-against-hope that the "priestess" may be taking a Sunday off!) ... I told Krishna that this was more like "my" church...and that the music was going to be much nicer and we would have a nice Book of Common Prayer (the 1662 Church of England Book as far as I can tell) to help him to follow along.

We arrived a little later than expected...Krishna made a wrong turn and ended up at St. Joseph's Cathedral.  One of the problems one runs into in India is the big medians in the middle of just about every major street.  Abids Road is one of them.  You cannot just "whip a u-turn" - - you may need to drive a couple of kilometers before you can find a place to turn around...and then - making the u-turn into traffic is a whole 'nother set of problems!

You may remember that St. George's Church is the place where the main building, nave and sanctuary are undergoing some major renovations.  It will probably be the end of the year by the time the repairs are completed and the actual church building is ready for services.  So, for the time being, the Sunday Eucharist is being held in the "parish hall".  We walked from where we parked the car and walked in the "narthex" door and the place was about 3/4 full.  We found a pew on the Gospel side about halfway back.  I can say "Gospel side" with accuracy, because the St. George's Mass is celebrated "Ad orientem" (i.e. The Way God Intended!)

The choir was singing, so it was difficult to know exactly where they were in the liturgy.  We were not all that late, so - since the "sacred ministers" (yes, our "priestess" was there!) were already in the Sanctuary, I figured this to be the end of an opening hymn or the last bit of the processional.  The hymn was quite familiar, but not one I could get used to hearing in an Anglican setting:  "What a Friend We Have in Jesus".  Krishna and I stood there in our spot, side-by-side, and I just couldn't force myself to sing that hymn in Church.

All of a sudden...I heard a loud voice.  A female voice.  There's really no commotion (yet) - but the voice was becoming much louder and quite a bit more agitated.  My brain could not quite register what was going on at first.  First of all, the lady was yelling something...but I could not understand a word of it because she was yelling in Telugu.  Now...my next thought (seeing how the choir was now halfway into the fourth verse of "What a Friend...") was "Oh, no...dear Lord - - please tell me that somebody has not "gotten the Holy Spirit" and began to speak in tongues!!"  I dwelt on that thought for about thirty more seconds, when I noticed some movement around the Sanctuary where the choir was singing.  Then I heard a man's voice join the woman's.  I could now discern that there was a loud argument going on!!  Another man's voice joined the screaming chorus...and finally the music stopped! 

There was a full-on screaming, pushing, shoving and more-screaming going on in the choir.  Concerned parishioners stood in stunned silence...but that was the only silence in the room.  The two men were now really going at it...pointing fingers and shouting.  The bigger of the two guys pushed the smaller fellow pretty hard...and then the smaller guy pushed the big guy really hard!  The lady is now screaming at both of them'

Now, the amazing thing to me was that the "priest-in-charge" was doing absolutely NOTHING to try and control the situation!  And yet, all of this "action" was taking place within about fifteen feet of where he was standing with his arms akimbo.  Never has the term "priest-in-charge" been any more oxymoronic!!  The "priestess" had retreated to the back wall of the Sanctuary by the Epistle horn of the altar.  She wasn't exactly "cowering"...but - it was getting pretty heated up there!!  I can't imagine any Rector I have ever worked with...Canon Bower, Canon Wilcox or Father Kelley letting any of this go on for longer than about ten seconds!!

More yelling.  More pushing.  More screaming.  While my head was spinning over the bizarre nature of this scene, I turned to Krishna and asked him what they were all fighting about.  Could he hear anything?  What was being said?  He said "I don't know sir..." - I knew better, but he was not smiling so I didn't pressure him.  Later I asked him again about what was being said and he told me that "Somebody was very, very angry, sir!"  (Thank you, Krishna-ji, for this profound insight!)

Now the scene shifted.  The bigger guy starts ushering/pushing the smaller/louder guy toward a door leading out to the courtyard off the Gospel side wall.  The lady is still pretty agitated (It was looking more and more as if the "loud little man" was the source of all of these sorrows.  The noise has now quieted down to the point that the organist again begins to play...and three-or-four choir members begin to pick up the chorus again... "Whaaat a friend weee have in Jeeee-suuus!"  Finally it looks like some sanity has returned to St. George's!

Not so fast!!  The little man comes back into the side-door and into the front of the nave.  He's still yelling at the lady.  The choir stops singing at the first new shout... and the voices again are raised to a mild roar.  Now I see one of the choir members pick up a plastic chair and raise it up over her head.  There's more pushing and shoving.  Still, the priest is doing nothing.  I now think: "Oh...I have to get a video of this!!"  I pulled out my Blackberry and put it on the "Video Camera" application, and hold it slightly in front of my chest so as not to be too obvious about what I was doing.  I can now see that a couple of women sitting in the nave have grabbed their things and are heading for the rear door. I filmed for a few minutes as the voices can be heard yelling in Telugu.  I stopped my videotaping and put my phone back into my cassock pocket.  As more people were getting up and were heading for the door, I could see in the eyes of some of the people that seemed to be pleading: "Father, can't YOU do something??"  I looked quickly down at my watch and turned and asked Krishna: "Do you think we still have enough time to make it to St. Mary's by 9:15 for the English Mass?"  He nodded and said "Yes, sir!"

We exited our pew and began quickly walking for the rear door.  A couple of parishioners smiled as we passed by them in the aisle and gave sheepish smiles and shook their heads.  As soon as we got out into the sunlight, I turned to Krishna and said: "I'm so sorry!  I told you that Church is not a perfect place!!"  He assurred me that it was O.K.  By the time we got out to our car (which was parked over by the main church building) ... I had begin to laugh out loud.  "Krishna...I cannot believe what I just saw!!"  I've been in and out of Anglican parishes for all of my 53-odd years - and I had never witnessed an actual old-fashioned "donnybrook" inside the sanctuary!!  Now, there have been some vestry meetings that have gotten close to fisticuffs - - but this was indeed a first!

As we drove toward the driveway and the exit, I noticed that the first of many policemen had begun to arrive.  Women in saris were gesturing toward the parish hall and trying to get the brown-uniformed gendarmes to go inside.  "Looks like we picked a good time to get outta Dodge!" I said to no one in particular.

We made it to St. Mary's with time to spare... and had a wonderful Mass with our Roman Catholic brethren.  As we entered at the end of the Telugu Mass - - the celebrant from the earlier Eucharist asked me if I could help him out and hear a Confession.  I just smiled and shook my head and informed him that until the unity with the TAC/Anglican Ordinariates takes place, I couldn't do that.  "No Father, I can't.  I'm actually an Anglican Priest!"  He looked my Roman-style cassock and collar up-and-down, smiled back at me and said "Oh, O.K.!"  After we had chosen our seats, a nice lady behind us tapped me on the shoulder and said that I should go up into the Sanctuary and see if Father would like me to concelebrate the Mass with him.  Again I had to admit the nature of my Anglican Orders.  She was very sweet.  "There will be no "Anglican" and no "Roman" Catholics in heaven.  We all belong to Jesus!"

Amen, sister...AMEN!  Even the people at St. George's!!

Oh.  If you are wondering what happened to the video of the fight?  I was playing it on the small-screen later during my lunch inside Beyond Coffee when my Blackberry locked-up.  I had to plug it in an re-boot it when I got back home.  When I did, the video had been erased.  It was as if God Himself had said, "No, Father... don't you think that St. George's parish has enough problems without you putting this video up on your blog and Facebook page!!"

Yes, Lord.  I get it!  Thanks for saving me from myself once again!!

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