Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back to Church!

Sunday, 21 & 28 August, and 5 September 2010

It was wonderful returning to church and seeing familiar faces. When we left in early June, the Mother Teresa nuns had already left the country, sorting out visa issues, and it was unclear when they would be able to return. The day we left Astana, Sophia's teacher and another teacher, also parishioners, also left the country, never to return. A week or two after we left, the other teachers who attended the English-language Mass also left the country.

As the nuns slowly left, we learned just how much work is put into making a Mass nice. Who decides who will do the readings? Who picks out the songs? Who sings in a loud, clear voice? Who decides when to start singing?

Our singing was falting and somewhat awful. Mass started late just so we could work out, in a last-minute whispering frenzy, who would do what reading and what songs we would sing. We stopped singing the Gloria and the Christe, Eleison, among others.

But, it wasn't so bad. I learned to show up early for church. Sophia's teacher and another Filipino teacher--who has an amazing voice--sorted through the hymnal and picked out and led songs.

Then we all left, leaving much of the details up to the the altar boy's Ukrainian, non-Catholic mother (she's Russian Orthodox, which is similar, at least).

Sometime during the summer, the altar boy's family left for vacation.

On the same day, we all returned--3 Filipino teachers, including the one with the amazing voice; Sophia & I; and the altar boy and his family. Not the nuns, not the teachers who hadn't planned on returning, but still, that's 9 people added to a rather tiny group of people. Including singers and people who know the routine.

When the priest looked out before Mass began, he broke into a wide grin and couldn't stop smiling all during Mass. He was clearly happy.

He told us that the nuns were due to return next week.

After Mass, I hugged and gossiped with my former co-workers, the Filipinos who have returned to work at my former school. We were all so happy to see one another.

The next week, the nuns were back, and the singing was even better, crystal voices in the still air of the large, open church. The nuns were happy to see everyone, too.

The week after that, they added a piece to our small service--the procession that brings the offering to the altar. Our congregation had been too small, this piece had been left out up until now.

Sophia would lead the procession, carrying a candle. Before Mass, we practiced, and she became terrified. If there is a shy gene, then I've passed it onto her. She flew from the church, crying, and hid in a corner by the big entrance doors. A nun saw her and came up and offered words of advice--it's okay if she chooses not to participate; this procession is for Jesus Christ.

Sophia calmed down, we re-entered the church, and when it came time to do the procession, she was willing to do it. I walked next to her as she slowly carried the candle down the aisle, others followed with bread and wine and other offerings. Everyone was pleased that she had chosen to participate.

Hopefully soon we'll be able to get her in preparations for Reconciliation and First Communion, I have to talk to the nuns, I think one will be able to give her private lessons, since she is the only English-speaking child of age.

After Mass, we passed on a present for one of the Filipino teachers--a bottle of maple syrup, that he had requested from America. He was thrilled. We had already given our other present-from-America to the other teachers.

Earlier that week, Marilyn & Emily had come to our apartment--a full hour away, by bus and foot--to borrow our modem, as I had let them know that I now have an extra one. The teacher who lived here last year had bought one and left in the apartment, as his new apartment already has one. Well, no use in me keeping two modems and only using one! So I let the other teachers know that I had an extra modem to lend. Marilyn & Emily were thrilled, since modems cost about $50.

They came over and I gave them the modem plus the American presents--lotion from Bath & Body Works. (per request)

They told me that when they had told the vice principal that they were coming to me to get the modem, he had grown suspicious and asked, "Is it the school's modem?" Thinking that perhaps I had "stolen" a modem bought for me by the school.

No, they assured him, I had used my own money for this modem.

They were happy to see my place and we were happy to talk, but it was getting late and they had an hour return journey!

Astana's a small city but it can take quite some time to travel via bus.

But it's great to see familiar faces, to feel welcome. It's good returning to a city.

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