Part of my church shopping assignment from Fr. P is to check out churches of other denominations. Specifically, he suggested I visit at least one Catholic church and one other protestant one. Today was the Catholic church. I went to the 9:15 Mass at St. Teresa's in Olneyville.
Olneyville is a section in Providence that at one time housed a lot of mills and factories. These days it is a fairly poor section of the city... and one of the more diverse neighborhoods, with Spanish, African Americans, Southeast Asians and other minorities living together. My husband's shop is located in Olneyville. My old church was right on the border, in West Broadway.
I chose St. Teresa's for two reasons. First, I have friends that go to the 11:00 Spanish mass. They were actually former baby class students of mine, and when we got to talking about churches, they said that they love St. Teresa's. Also, the priest there, Fr. Ray, has done a lot of ecumenical work with my former minister. Steve has always spoken very highly of him.
So, on this beautiful October morning, I drove to Providence and pulled into the tiny parking lot behind the church. Just as I was getting out of the car, I pulled a muscle in my back. Bad. I could barely move. But I was already there, so I creaked out of the car and stiffly managed to get up the front steps.
I kept thinking that this church was dedicated to St. Teresa, who spent a lot of her life in physical pain, as I recall. I tried to keep that in mind as I was sitting awkwardly in the pew.
Luckily, Catholic services are similar enough to Anglican ones that I didn't feel completely out of place. They have a little Missalette that you use to follow along. St. Teresa's is a low key place. There is no organ, or choir. The priest would hum or sing the tune of the hymn and then the congregation would join in. The altar boys and girls were probably in their early teens, and there were only two of them. The whole service felt scaled back... no incense, very little formality. And yet, almost from the beginning of the service, I felt very emotionally involved. Before the first reading, Fr. Ray suggested that we listen very carefully to the words, to see if any spring out at us. Then, after the reading, he asked the congregation to share which words had had particular meaning for them. I was floored. He was doing Lectio Divina in the middle of the mass.
Which was about when I started crying.
The rest of the mass was just that kind of amazing combination of informality and prayerfulness. There was lots of interaction between the priest and the congregation. Lots of exhuberant love of God. Fr. Ray pointed out, for example, that in the spanish, the passage from Isaiah that we first read started "My Beloved" which is so much more intimate than the "My Friend"that our english version used. He went on to say that God loves us, is our lover, wants to be our lover. It was really remarkable because he spoke so simply, and yet you could feel the depth of HIS love and faith coming through. I was really moved.
And then, after, as I was trying to drive home with my pinched nerve, I felt sure that God was talking loud and clear today. And I realized that Nguyen would probably actually like St. Teresa's.