We encountered quite a number of people on the way down the river - bathing, doing laundry, and collecting drinking water. There is a spring partway down the river which makes it a little less muddy, and Pere Samuel explained to me that people would dig a sort of a hole to let the sediment settle out of the water before putting it into containers to take home to drink.
Eventually we left the river and went a little farther before leaving the truck behind. Several parishioners had sent down their horses for some of us; others hiked, thuribles, dress shirts in bags, and all. I thought, hey, I am perfectly capable of hiking! However, by the time the day was over and my legs were starting to shake a little, I was grateful I had had the gift of that horse. Each horse also had a small boy assigned to urge the horse along when it got balky, which was not uncommon; a few times I had to get off so it could get up particularly steep, rocky places in the path. I was grateful for the dozen riding lessons I had taken ten years ago at the boarding school at which I taught; even without reins and with stirrups too long for my short legs, I was told I looked comfortable. As my mother says, will miracles never cease! By the end of the trip up the mountain I had collected someone bookbag and a hanging bag with dress shirts along with my backpack (which held habit, shoes, water, prayer book, bug spray, kleenex, etc.).
When we arrived, an hour before the service, there was already a good crowd gathered, rather unusual in my limited experience, given that service times are approximate. It is important here for parishioners from other churches, Episcopalian and other denominations, to come for a patronal festival to show support, and a number of people had come the night before and pitched tents. We were offered coconuts (juice and fruit) right away, as well as coffee (which I dared not drink, given the water situation) and bread.
Pere Samuel showed me the two classrooms which make up this parish school, an important service to the community given the lack of available schools in the area.
The service itself was beautiful and well attended. "Standing room only" doesn't cover it: some people had to stay outside for lack of space within. The parish choir sang, accompanied by electric guitar (powered by generator), as did a ten voice men's choir, accompanied by accordion. There were two thurifers with their clouds of incense, candle-bearers, and two crucifers. There were a dozen of us in the altar party. Once again, the offertory was fabulous, with a group of women wearing red dancing up the aisle with their offerings in red baskets on their heads, followed by two boys dancing with bags and hoes.
Pere Samuel preached about Peter and how very human he was, impulsive, speaking without reflecting, alternating between fear and courage - and yet his heart was in the right place, so God was able to work through him for great good. I always find that heartening.
He also talked to the congregation about the fact that the Episcopal Church has women priests, and that the two women with him were seminarians. As there is currently only one ordained woman in the diocese of Haiti, this is new for some, I think. He also reminded them that Episcopal clergy can marry if they are not called to take a vow of chastity in the religious life, and that it is possible to be a sister and a priest at the same time.
After it was over, I had a plate of rice and beans before heading back down the mountain with an even larger crowd, this time on foot. The views were spectacular.
The pickup held a dozen or so of us on the way home. It was quite hot, so when we got back to the river, I was seriously envious of the horses being bathed. What I wouldn't have given to hop out just for a few moments!
I will have the chance to go to another mission church in a few weeks. This time, I'll be preaching. Prayers, please! I don't know if it will be this much of a trip: some mission churches are accessible by car. However, there are also some that are up to six hours away. I don't think this is one of them; however, I do know that wherever it is, it will be an adventure.