Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St. Peter in St. Petersburg

On Christmas Eve I attended my second religious service for challenge #29, this time Episcopalian. Normally at 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve I'm elbow deep in some kind of pie, but this year I got all dressed up and went with Austin and his family to The Church of St. Peter in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

It was a very classy birthday party for Jesus. The entire church was adorned with Christmas trees, garlands, and bright red flowers, all of which played a supporting role to the cathedral's striking architecture. Little girls ran around in their Christmas dresses and bows, and only a handful of people showed up in jeans. Most wore their Christmas best, or at least their Christmas better.

The service itself was full of Christmas hymns, some pretty familiar and others rather obscure to me. There were various readings and prayers, a particularly short sermon that I will abbreviate later, and communion. The Episcopalian service has much in common with a Catholic one.

My absolute favorite part of the evening was near the end, when the lights were dimmed and we sang "Silent Night" by the light of the many candles throughout the cathedral. If I hadn't felt Christmasy before this point, it was poking at my heart during this song. To borrow from the hymn itself, "All is calm" is the best way to describe that moment. The flickering candles were the only things that moved.

My second favorite part was the organ and brass combo, which made every song sound a little grander than they would have otherwise.

Reverend Stephen Morris, the Dean, gave his message to an almost full crowd. He began by saying that despite how we sentimentalize the night that Jesus was born and make it so cozy, that barn was probably pretty stinky, those shepherds were at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, and Joseph and Mary could have used a nice hot shower. A king is born! In kind of a gross situation! 

His point was that Jesus was born on the fringe (he used this word a lot) of everything, so far removed from the center of power, and that is where God stepped in and "changed our course." We each have our own fringe, that place where our hopes and our fears collide, where our center of power that we think we maintain so well starts to unravel, and we immediately want to be rehabilitated. "But God doesn't come to rehabilitate," the Dean said. "He comes to redeem." He comes to you in that place, your fringe.

"Tonight, celebrate Bethlehem," he concluded. The original fringe.

Okay, so it was interesting. Didn't really high-five my soul or anything, but I understood and appreciated the message, regardless if it lined up with my own beliefs, and it didn't drag on and on. In general, the beauty of the cathedral, the solemn but moving music, and the Christmasy mood of the congregation made this service pretty enjoyable. And it was all in English, which is a plus.

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