I did it. I followed through on the plan. I went to church on Sunday, staying for the full service for the first time in probably 30 years. I have attended other services in that time. But I never stayed past the sermon. I have no patience for all the ritualistic stuff, and eating the body of Christ never set well with me. In fact I did not partake of the communion rites yesterday. It’s the only thing I didn’t do, and I admit to feeling a little conspicuous on account of it. As far as I could tell I am the only one who sat it out.
Much of the ritual portion was familiar, as it would be to someone who attended services throughout high school and into college. A few things seemed different. When I expected congregation to respond “It is right to give Him thanks and praise” they only said “It is right to give thanks.” There were other small variances in the scripts.
I totally forgot about the “Peace be with you” moment where everyone is supposed to turn to their neighbors and offer a sign of friendship. We say “Peace be with you.” In my youth I imagined this moment as potentially magical, one which turned strangers into soulmates, or acquaintances into partners. Having forgotten this moment was coming I had nothing prepared, no magical opening line to make this person sitting behind me my new best friend and partner in changing my life. Maybe next week.
The sermon was, for as much as I could audibly hear it, reasonably interesting. The priest, among the few people present still wearing a mask, spoke through the PPE about his years of study at the seminary. At the end of those years one of the mentors proposed that everyone summarize their years of study in one sentence. This proposal was not entirely serious but some took the challenge. This priest said his single-sentence summary of his years of studying the Cathecism was this: “God is relational.” He said some stuff I could not hear but in general his comments were how God is the same force among the congregation whether you like other people or not. You might think that person is homophobic or arrogant but God is what connects you to them, regardless of your intuition or instincts about them. I probably missed some of his detailed comments through the vacuumy sounding din of noise groaning over the place.
I forgot that everyone is supposed to unfold the kneelers and kneel for several minutes. It hurt my knees but I adjusted, remembering stories of nuns who prayed in this position every waking hour until they dropped dead. These heroes of the kneeler became saints for their suffering. I would not have earned sainthood for my kneeling exertions yesterday. We also are to hold our hands out, palms up, for reason I cannot recall.
The music was not bad, and the organist was quite good. The organ itself is said to be a pretty respected instrument among those in the know. It definitely sounded high quality and well-maintained. The stained glass was passable. Acoustics are what swallowed a lot of the experience. I just couldn’t hear a lot of what went on. I should sit closer next time. Closer to God.
I saw some scratches on the pews and started to imagine that PRAY brought her show to the churches. It would make perfect sense if she did. The scratches I saw on the pews just looked like incidental wear and tear. But what if PRAY came through and scratched her way around the place. Maybe she would have hesitated to send her message on church property, since the church is the central source for that message. Her additions would be unnecessary overkill. I shall look for PRAY next time but I will not make a project of it.
The church is on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Afterward there was free coffee and cookies, of which I did not partake. The post-mass coffee was described as a socializing event, where parishoners get to knok each other. It didn’t seem to work out like that. People just grabbed the free grub and kept to themselves, or to their family members. If I become a familiar face at this church maybe I’ll meet new people. Or maybe not.
I barely mumbled a word or two throughout the service. I did not repeat or respond to anything. I have $5 to the hat-passer. It seemed many people gave nothing. The service was livecast online, raising the obvious question of whether people who watch from home find ways to donate or if they just stay home. No stats were obviously available as to how many people joined the service online. The church itself was far from full. One or two people per pew, on average, though numbers might have been higher toward the front. It’s a decent-sized church.
Getting there was marred only by weekend MTA service disruptions. No N trains in Astoria and I hate those shuttle buses. They cram as many people as possible into them. So I walked down to Queens Plaza and got an R, then a 4 express uptown. For all the disruptions I still got there within 45 minutes, door to door. With normal subway service I’d be there in a half hour or less.
My attempt to find a doughnut on Park Avenue proved futile, as I should well have expected. A glimmer of hope came when I thought I spotted a “GOURMET CAFE” across the street. I expected it to server $15 doughnuts and $12 espresso shots. Alas, no such joy. Closer inspection revealed the “GOURMET CAFE” to be a “GARMENT CARE” establishment. My vision is not awful, but it was a long way to squint across all those lanes and the medians of Park Avenue.
Why am I writing so much about this foray into church? I don’t know. It has something to do with its connection to my high school, for which I have no particular fondness or nostalgia. But the connection alone felt like it might be enough to connect with someone at this church, through mutual acquaintances or connections to alumni from my school who are in New York. I don’t need to reconnect with them but if I can use their acquaintance as currency…
I cleaned up a little bit in terms of sartorial concerns. This cleanup was unnecessary. Others around me wore shorts and Ts, casual garb. Some dressed up but I’ll assume that’s just their style and not necessarily a “Sunday best” outfit. You see more of the “Sunday Best” dressage in black communities, I think. This was a decidedly white congregation.
Tonight I step out of my routine again. Since working here I have not met up with anyone after work. One time I tried going to a bar on John Street but found I’d been priced out of beer in this neighborhood. I did not return. But tonight I’ll meet an old friend at a place I’ve not returned to since lockdown ended. She is in town for an MRI. We dated many years ago, off and on for some years. Today that seems irrelevant, a footnote at best. But I think of her sometimes and her seemingly unwavering commitment to me, even when I was something of an asshat toward her. We broke up and it was messy at first but things cooled. When it seemed she had found her future husband and we were completely finished she said what one other woman said to me: “I will always love you.” I believe her, and I believed D when she said the same words.