Today's church service, the first of two, was held in a park.
There were two ambient noises drowning out the two female clergy in attendance, holding an impromptu mass next to some fountains in a public park.
The first were the fountains, giving off a wall of white noise that forced those in attendance to stand close, even more intimate than before.
The second was a cement cutter, ditch-witching its way through the urban sprawl.
As a result, voices were raised. Raised in jubilation. People got in close, even as the reek of urine, of scars, of unwashed humanity and sweat and grime and dirt and the reality of the streets merged to form a circle of miasma around all concerned. It united us all, even the four or five of us who weren't homeless, all there by choice.
The altar was a small folding table, brought in the back of a van. Communion was two slices of pita-like bread, and a small vessel of grape juice and water, consecrated for intinction. The priest wore a stole, the deacon wore one to the side, as is tradition, but both wore clerical collars.
Hymns were impromptu and spontaneous - songs that were labelled Negro Spiritual in the less enlightened music textbooks of my youth, relics of a bygone age. And the church had no walls, physical or otherwise. Beneath a beautiful canopy of sunny sky, surrounded by grass and the rush of falling water, we were thankful, and we were joyous. It takes celebrating a mass with people who have next to nothing to find a congregation truly thankful. They greeted each other with joy and recognition. There was reverence, but informality. People wandered off to have a cigarette and returned, while keeping an ear on the homily.
Language was simpified, and subtly changed. Emphasis was on God Amongst Us. About hope. About transformation and change. Healing. That God is there and is love in the midst of every vicissitude of humanity.
People wandered in, wandered by. Some who weren't all there, in terms of consciousness, walked through - and somehow, at some level of recognition, gave the proceedings a reverence even as they didn't necessarily understand what was going on. A man with a recently scarred face wandered by in the hospital gown he'd discharged himself from the emergency room in. It made me suddenly ask forgiveness for judging those who just come at Christmas and Easter, when I see people who've walked a considerable distance and/or discharged themselves from badly needed care to be with community. With family. With God.
There was nobody there who was simply there for the food. It was understood you didn't have to participate in order to get the freely offered food afterwards - this was not "sit through a condemning sermon in order to get your sandwich" - everything was an invitation.
There was a wonderful simplicity in it that reminded me of αγαπη and κοινονια - and as a small dog wandered happily between our legs as we prayed, I smiled inwardly remembering the original purpose of an altar rail.
Church let out, and the real charity work began. Trunks and vans were opened, badly needed goods were distributed. I wasn't part of that team, well, at least not yet.
I wandered away to lay minister at my normal church later in the day.
The woman who invited me to that service said to me that she could no longer worship inside a building, with people who didn't have a genuine need for grace. I reminded her that the people of the stone and mortar church, complete with incense rather than sweat, and stained glass, rather than the sun streaming through the trees, still had problems, still had burdens, still had the need of grace, self-love, and forgiveness.
But I have to admit there was a slightly different ambience to my duties that day.
I shall return next week.