Incomplete - Gospel Service at the Macedonian African Methodist -
Gospel Service at the Macedonian African Methodist Church in Flushing New York - Sunday
8th February 2015
I am up at 6 am excited about the Gospel Service and have the quickest of showers, knowing that Dickie and Bev will be awake and want to shower soon. I make tea and slice fruit and sit in my room to give them space. Bev hates mornings and is quiet and withdrawn for some while after waking, and I respect that. By nature, I am an early riser - we are early risers, and for decades our lives were governed by the clock, our careers and the demands of family. Now we can enjoy the sunrise, the quiet, the birds, peace, the alone time. I think well in the early hours, when Gerald and I often meditate together, a time for tea, reading, or even catching up with friends on Facebook. My energy levels drop during the day, I could happily have a siesta after lunch every day, as I did as a child and a teenager, with my mother. By 8 pm, when dinner is cleared away, and I am sitting with my Beloved enjoying a glass of wine, watching TV, I anticipate a 9.30 to 10 pm bedf time, perhaps preceded by a half hour of reading. Bev's time clock is the opposite, as I am climbing into bed, she is settling down for a few hours of television, having a late dinner, or soaking in the bathtub. Her mornings are definitely not for watching the sunrise, socialising or reading, they are for sleeping. She and Sue - one of my best friends in Australia - would get on so well! That we have managed to exist here for this week or so is testimony to our friendship.
Last night, Dickie was preparing his suit, his shirt, his tie, polishing his shoes, folding his hanky, getting all his clothing "just so" for the service this morning. So like my Dad. And after I went to bed, Bev enjoyed a long bath, having washed and set her hair earlier, and then, dammit, got it all wet later in the tub. So when she woke up this morning, its still damp. She hauls out a big old fashioned salon style hair dryer and sets it up on the dining room table, and sits under it in her nighty. Its already after eight, and the Smiths will be here at 8.45 am to pick us up, Dickie is looking nervous about the time, and I am already dressed and ready to go. I retire to my room and busy myself, as a few sharp words are being exchanged between husband and wife. I wear my new coat and three pairs of woollen leggings, a woollen cami, wool jumper, wool cardigan, hat, gloves, two pairs of socks, Sue's fleecey lined boots, and a huge scarf, and I carry the final layers ready to put on as we exit the building. Bev is getting ready now and wearing an elegant skirt and jacket, silk stockings, high heels, matching accessories and a long fur coat and looks a million dollars. I, on the other hand, look like a refugee. She says to me, "Are you wearing that?" - I murmur yes, and apologise for I am dressing for the cold. Somewhat dubiously, she asks "Do you have a skirt to wear?" - no, I don't. I have forgotten - if I ever knew - how exquisitely the congregation dresses for church services, but this is the best I can do with my clothing and the weather.
The Smiths are on time and we leave just a few minutes later, Bev puts a spurt of speed on, and we 'robe up' a lengthy but necessary procedure to get from the front door of the building to the car. Clinging to the men, I take baby steps in the thick snow and ice. It is absolutely freezing, the snot runs from my nose and freezes, the road is thick with ice and the men have a running commentary on how many bad drivers there are on the road. Dickie purports that New York is full of people who have never seen snow and don't know how to drive in it, and are a menace to everybody else. I stare, sometimes terrified, sometimes gobsmacked as people do insane things, and agree. I don't think I would drive in the snow either. We put chains on our tyres for that in the rare conditions they are required in the mountains in Australia!
The church is not far, in Flushing, and about 130 years old - and there is a plan to demolish it and build something modern. At Christmas, Nath was one of those serving a meal to the underprivileged, and the rain was severe, and they spent hours bucketing up water off the floor which poured in all over the place. I met a man whose father's father had helped build this church, and he said that then all they could afford was third grade bricks, and its a miracle it lasted this long. They recently completed an apartment block next to it, also for the underprivileged, a project they are justifiably proud of. We enter a nondescript building and up some stairs, the lights are low, and it has a warmth, both physical and non physical. The people are beaming, coming at me, arms stretched wide in welcome, "Howyadoin'?" and "Welcome to our Church!" I meet a dozen or more people, many of whom seem to know of me, have certainly heard of me, and once more I am struck by the connectedness of this community.
We enter a large room at the end of the corridor, which is The Church, where a prayer is just finishing, I see Tony, Nath and Yvonne's son, working sound equipment at the rear, and rows of pews, many empty. Everyone is immaculately dressed, the women wear large hats, high heels, and jewellery, sumptuous floor length coats of leather and fur, every man in a suit, and gleaming shoes. Most carry their Bibles, clearly well loved, and some a bit battered - I like to think they were handed down from Grandma. We take our seats right up the front, where I have a good view of all the proceedings. The altar is simple and elegant, flanked by rows of glowing wood pews on opposite sides, for two choirs I imagine. The family is there - Fred and Deborah, Tony, and Annette their friend, and Yvonne takes her seat on the opposite side of the aisle with the 'officials' - she too, is dressed like the cover of Vogue magazine, with a huge red hat I would love to wear.
There is a woman leading the music, and as it starts to soar, a procession of women walk solemnly and reverently down the centre aisle, all wearing floor length deep blue robes, with a golden scarf around their necks. They take their seats to the left of the altar - none of the Catholic Church stuff where the choir is sidelined, here the choir is the Headline Act, and gets the appropriate billing. Officials follow, the music is simply sublime, and I feel the first prick of tears - the music touches something deep inside of me, an unknown place which aches yet wants to laugh, all at once. The robed pastor makes his entrance, a tall, impressive and handsome man, with an open, friendly face. He welcomes us, and blesses us, leads us in a simple, loving prayer for us and for the world. The music increases in volume the congregation joins the choir in song - they know all the words to all the hymns, swaying, clapping, and clearly loving the process. Every now and again, someone will call out over the top of the music, and repeat a phrase - “Praise God!” - or “Jesssssssus!”.A small woman steps up to the microphone, she is elderly, possibly eighty or more, someone who clearly once had the most thrilling voice, which now quavers a little, but she can still hit all the notes, and she gives it with all of her heart. She has struggled as her microphone has not been working, so the choir master replaces it for her, and suddenly her voice fills the church. Her voice is not perfect, yet this community understand her place and respect her as an important elder, as a singer, and she is given a rousing applause. I am so touched by this gesture, in our community we seldom give 'space' to the elderly, allowing the young to take centre stage. There is a deep love and respect here that touches me profoundly.
There are more prayers, and I am surprised to see that several are almost identical to our Catholic Mass, bar one or two words. The Apostles Creed “I Believe in One God" for example. The pastor gives his sermon, about love and being the best we can be, I am struck by how similar it is to an evening at the Landmark Forum than the church. I can relate to this, all of it, and I feel so grateful to be here.