“Oh happy day,
oh happy day!”
I got up and went to church yesterday!
Yeah, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. I mean, I’ve been to church before, sure. School Christmases and Easter, Remembrance Sunday, those friends who suddenly decide they’re religious when it comes to wedding time… but never on a Sunday to watch (or is it take?) Mass. But I’m in New Orleans and seeing as the semi-famous St Augustine’s Church (damaged in Hurricane Katrina, star of Shake the Devil Off film) was just up the road from my hotel I decided it would be an interesting anthropological study for me, to see how they do Catholicism here.
The church was beautiful from the outside. Judging by the tour buses lining up outside it’s definitely a ‘thing to see’ in New Orleans.
Inside the windows were stained glass, the altar super fancy, the usual pews and religious statues lined the room… and there was a full band on stage, saxophonist and all.
I pulled up a pew at the back, with quick access to my escape, until a few seconds before it started and a couple came and pushed me up to box me in. Stuck for the full service.
Order of service
As I said, I haven’t been to Sunday mass before so I don’t know what’s normal but the quick rundown of what followed is this…
– We have to stand, for ages.
– The choir sing some ‘praise hallelujahs’ up front while the priest comes round flicking water at everyone. A parade of people with a cross walk down the aisle.
– More gospel singing up front. Love it.
– Priest does a 30-minute sermon on how when life goes wrong it’s usually because you’ve strayed too far from Jesus. In my mind I replace ‘Jesus’ with love and/or intention (as in yoga) and what he says all sounds okish, common sense really.
– During his whole sermon there was a woman sat to the side just agreeing with everything he said, loudly. ‘Mmm hmmm’, ‘yeah, that’s right’, ‘yeah!’. Imagine that in a loud southern drawl managing to carry across a congregation of about 200.
– He finishes by acknowledging that the church has done wrong in the past, but it needs forgiveness. Just like us. Interesting.
– He then invites anyone who has a birthday to come up and they get the best ‘Happy Birthday to you’ song ever.
– Then it was the time for anniversaries. One couple were on their 10th and another on their 23rd, they briefly renewed their vows. ‘You may now kiss your spouse’, and they walked back up the aisle to the Wedding March. It was very sweet, and emotional, for them.
And then the choir really started…
I went to Sunday Mass today… For the first time ever. Wanted to see the New Orleans gospel singers. pic.twitter.com/smzlhRTcDt
— Victoria Philpott (@VickyFlipFlop) April 4, 2016
The saxophonist brings it, the lead vocalist is going for it with every space in her lungs and the front row, and randomly dotted others, have brought their arms up in praise reaching to the heavens. I find myself swaying to the song too, feeling the music through me.
And then, an amazingly fast two hours after it started, the service was over. The young priest, super cool with sunglasses and all, was stood outside waiting to shake our hands.
I hung around to people watch for a bit.
I may have watched too much Little House on the Prairie (which as my Google search just taught me was the Midwest, not the Deep South), or got mixed up with Maya Angelou’s upbringing (again, Missouri, not New Orleans) but I sort of thought that everyone would be wearing bonnets and best dresses at church here. I think my presumptions were a few decades out.
Turns out my pink top, black trousers and green cardigan combo was perfectly surpassable.
- St Augustine’s Church Sunday Mass
- Free (there was a collection box but I don’t give to religious organisations)
Not sure I’d go again but for a once in a lifetime experience of a gospel church in the Deep South, loved it!