Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day

Today we went to the Parish of the Ascension in Thor, Carrefour, for their patronal festival. The bishop was there for baptisms, confirmation, receptions, and formal renewals of baptismal vows, and of course he preached as well, beginning in French and switching to Haitian Creole. I got the gist of much of the latter part, I think, but 25 minutes is a long time to concentrate with limited language skills.

There were eight priests, all of whom concelebrated: I'd never seen that before in an Episcopal Church. It was quite something. Twenty-five in the altar party.

Music was an integral part of the service. There were seven hymns (officially, that is - we sang others as well), a number of choral pieces, and sung prayers. Hymns were accompanied by electric guitars and drums - except when the power went out briefly, and then we just kept singing, full voice, full volume, a capella. The Sanctus, on the other hand, sounded like a sixteenth century motet and was in Latin, beautifully sung by the choir of around thirty-five. The most interesting part for me, musically, although not the most beautiful of the selections, was the chanting of the Prayers of the People with the electric guitar improvising relatively quietly underneath the chant. Because it was such a big occasion, they had printed service booklets with the words to the hymns in them, so I was able to sing along even in Creole, at least until they started other hymns when the ones listed were over! It was all very enthusiastically sung, the sort of thing for the most part that makes you nearly start to dance.

One of the most interesting parts was the offering. Along with the usual elements of bread and wine and the monetary collection, people brought up other gifts. There was an enormous basket of fruit that took two people to carry, a large floral arrangement, and a beautiful wooden bowl. One man brought an enormous bunch of green bananas. Sr. Marie Therese tells me that another man had a live chicken, but I missed that (too short to see everything). When I expressed my amazement and delight at the procession of gifts to her later, she said, oh, that was nothing - once in Canges, the procession took two hours, and even the goats came in; apparently the cow was the only thing left outside.

The children being confirmed were beautifully dressed in white. One of the sisters explained to me that confirmation is a huge deal, one of the few life occasions for which one goes all out to dress up no matter what your financial situation. The other children from the school were all there in their uniforms, and the church was packed with adults as well.

In fact, it was such a big deal that the local news videographer was there along with some others from the press and a local dignitary. Afterwards, someone from a local organization got up to thank the bishop for his help with local reforestation efforts. I couldn't quite catch the details (it was in Creole), but it sounded like quite a lot had been done in that area and that the parish had been a major part of that. Good to hear. There was also some announcement about the acolytes' soccer tournament with a trophy given out, and I never did figure out whether the plaques given out and blessed by the bishop were about the soccer or for service as acolytes.

The service was followed by a reception in various rooms of the school. I had rice, goat, plantain, banana soda pop (very yellow, very sweet), and some sort of pasta casserole. A sister said, "You're eating macaroni?" I'd been warned against eating macaroni salad and things with mayonnaise or fresh vegetables, but I had thought a casserole was safe and another American sister was eating lasagne... but so far I'm not sick! I did eat a precautionary Pepto pill with my meal, which may have helped. Wish me luck on this...

It was raining by the time we left, and everyone was crowded into the halls and under the eaves of the school to keep from getting wet; those who hadn't gotten chairs in the rooms with the food had taken theirs into the nave, which was much cooler by then, fortunately.

It was by far the most lively and musical Ascension Day service I've ever been to by many, many times. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to worship with them.

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I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish Sr. Mary Michael a blessed 50th anniversary of profession. She had a big golden jubilee celebration in Boston. I couldn't be there, but I hope she knows my love and prayers were and are with her!


  1. Sarah, Thank you for the vivid description! It sounds like an amazing service. Although I think I'm grateful I don't have to wear a cassock to all services at EDS!

    Good luck heading to your parish!


  2. AnonymousMay 26, 2009

    Banana pop... think I'd like to try that. Sadly, I'm home with the flu I think I got from something I ate in good ol USA and you're there being adventurous with little to no side effects. Go figure.
    xoxo l.

    ps Love the photo. Reminds me of Molley's First Communion. :)