Today, Mark and I went to church at St. John's Cathedral in Central. Its really only about a 15 minute walk but we were running late so grabbed a taxi. Okay - we weren't sure exactly how long it would take and we were running late, hence the taxi. We figured out the time on the walk back through Hong Kong park.
St. John's is an Anglican Church, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1847. Both Mark and I enjoy attending services and although raised in different faiths, we have similar beliefs. Mark had made the suggestion of finding a congregation in Hong Kong in order to meet new people and join in some community activities. Frankly speaking, we are both rather conservative in our religious demonstrations and prefer a more low-key involvement in the services. There are many, many evangelical churches in Hong Kong, as one might imagine, and although they look friendly and happy, evangelical is just not quite our gig. Can I get an Amen! Just kidding.
Services go all day here at St. John's (isn't it pretty?). 8am spoken services, 9am sung services, a 10:30a Mandarin service, 2pm Filipino service - they really work to meet the needs of all people, and a 6pm Common Worship. They have several community programs, including Help for Domestic Helpers that provides various services, including legal, for Helpers in need.
We went to the 9am sung service and it was very beautiful. I think there are about 22 people in the choir and their voices were wonderful. They had a visiting minister - a man who had a medical practice for 40 years during which he attending Divinity School and now works as an Anglican minister. His sermon was good - that is, he kept my interest without raising my ire. Know what I mean? He didn't make any new points I haven't heard but he didn't say anything that made me roll my eyes and starting thinking about a grocery list. Actually, I was thinking about the fact that he was a medical doctor and also had such a strong faith. It made me wonder what he saw in his practice that cemented his belief in a Higher Power.
It was the lyrics of the closing hymn that caught my attention today. Do you remember when I told you about what I liked about Hong Kong and then mentioned one thing I didn't like? It was that cultural difference between myself and the native Hong Kongers - the one that makes them walk down the street and right into me, the one that makes them stare at me while I'm eating (yesterday, in a restaurant, a woman walked by our table, openly staring first at Mark, and then at me - I stared right back - she never dropped her gaze) and all the other Slights - Real Or Imagined. Because, honestly speaking, I start off feeling fine and getting through my day and then as I get tired, the frustration of moving and functioning in a world operating in a different language/culture is a little difficult. Here's an example: walking down the stairs and the two people in front of me just stopped dead, one step short of the sidewalk. I sort of catch my foot as I stop, so I stumble a little, and they still don't budge. Now I'm right there - hello? Not only unaware, but it feels like they don't care. There is no one in the world but them. You can hear me getting pissed all over again. But see - this was in the evening. I'm betting (hoping) if that had been the morning, I would have just gone on my way.
So the lyrics of the closing hymn are about Jesus and the offering of his life to "rid the earth of torture's terror..." The final verse reads, "Make in us a captive conscience quick to hear, to act, to plead; make us truly sisters, brothers, of whatever race or creed: teach us to be fully human, open to each other's need." Very powerful, dear Reader, very powerful. The choir is singing this last verse as they march down the aisle towards the open doors of the church. And the choir is made up of all races and both sexes - a moving, visual example of these lyrics. It sort of stops me emotionally and mentally. I think how small I have acted and how self-centered I have been. Its easy to do when there is only you to worry about! This isn't a confessional and I'm not on my knees before the congregation. These are just my thoughts about this part of my new life that says - its challenging to be a sister to people of my own language and culture, let alone people of a completely different world.
I have to laugh at myself of course, because in the Walter Mitty world I inhabit, nearly every situation comes back to one of four books/movies: Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, Sound of Music and Pride and Prejudice, okay - sometimes Beauty and The Beast. This particular moment in my mind is played out in a scene between the Reverend Mother and Maria. Maria is protesting her assignment of going to live as a governess to The Captain and his seven kids, and the Reverend Mother turns to her and with quiet exasperation says, "Mariaaaa......" It is this quiet exasperation I hear in my own head and heart when I try to explain away my behavior. "Mary Barbaraaaa...."