Monday, February 4, 2013

Church Life

It feels so good to say this - we have a new priest. Not that we didn't like our former one, he's been good to us personally, but there comes a time when change is better. Our parish is multi-ethnic, being as how we're the only game in town. If you're Orthodox here, it's our church or a drive of 45 minutes, minimum - and that's just to another Greek parish, the nearest Russian church is farther, and if you're Coptic, you have to drive to St. Louis. Or, you show up here, Sunday after Sunday, in spite of the fact that the service is largely in Greek, and your first language is, oh say, Amarhec. Which our Africans do!!! We have at least two families each and every Sunday, often three, sometimes as many as five families from Ethiopia and Eritrea, none of whom understand a word of Greek, English is VERY second-language, and one older woman speaks almost NO English, and they come to worship with us regardless of that fact, because the Church is the Church. It's inspiring; I don't know if I'd be as steadfast if the only options for church in a three-hour radius were in a language COMPLETELY foreign to me. We have a lovely Egyptian couple, some Russians, Serbs, add all that to the American-mutt converts and the Greeks were easily outnumbered many Sundays. And yet our services remained largely in Greek, and our now-retired father's English wasn't good (or even all that understandable) either.
I was nervous, when Father's retirement was announced, about the cohesiveness of our diverse community under a new priest. We desperately needed ENERGY - and English - but I was wary of getting a young man who had not been in full command of a parish before. We didn't need someone making all his first-time-managing mistakes with us, it needed to be someone old enough to exude an automatic air of authority. But in any case, we were hemorrhaging non-Greeks. Not the Africans, but the converts were staying away in droves. There were even fewer Greeks. Our parish was not large to begin with.
I think I can say, after our third Liturgy with him yesterday, that Fr. G is what we need in about every way. He's middle aged, used to command, has energy and charisma, and likes to have the Lord's Prayer in EVERY LANGUAGE THERE IS. His first Sunday here he asked, after we said it in Greek, whether anyone spoke Amarhec. We had it in Amarhec. We had it in the other language of Ethiopia that begins with a T, the name of which I don't recall. We had it in Russian. And as he said, "Anyone who speaks...?" the response was not shy or self-conscious. Hands went up eagerly. That went over VERY well. He's planning on organizing people to bake our bread for the Eucharist fresh, not bought frozen from Chicago. He wants to organize a church library, and set up a bookstore. He wants the congregation to sing along with the choir, and leads by example. He uses a LOT of English. He has ideas, and I think he will be able to win people over to them.
I'm used to being IT for the hymns that change with the day, which means that if Honeybee starts fussing minutes before the Small Entrance, I have to move heaven and earth to keep her happy just a few minutes longer, and entertain her while shuffling books and finding hymns. I'm resigned to being indispensable. I have sung half from memory, with a fussy baby sitting on my diaphragm. Fr. G prints out copies of the hymns of the day, in English, and encourages everyone to sing, and this week I got to find out how VERY nice it is to be... dispensable! If Honeybee needs to nurse five minutes before the Small Entrance, noooo problem. I can totally just up and leave, no disruption to the service, no awkward pause while someone else hunts up what hymn comes next. It's so relaxing. I can just "be" in church, for the first time in YEARS.
On the language front, just to be clear - I have no problem with Greek. I, personally, know what's going on, I know the hymns, and I am in favor of keeping a certain amount for the sake of longstanding (2,000 years...) tradition. But when it's far more Greek than English - and the English may as well be Greek, for all that an outsider could understand of it - and our parish is simply not as Greek as the service would lead you to think...? We need English, we need enthusiasm, we need a congregation that sings along. I know it all because I'm the pseudo-chanter. The people in the pews need to know it too. We also need to celebrate the fact that HEY, we are THE Orthodox community in our state's capital, Greek or not.
I feel really, really good about this. I'm really excited, for the first time in a long while. It's so refreshing to really look forward to church again.