By Teena Myers
A request from a friend led to my next first time guest experience. She had fond memories of a church she attended in the 80s, later destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The church had recently reopened, and she wanted to visit. I had heard about, but never visited a Charismatic Catholic Church. A perfect candidate for my next article in this series.
New Orleans is a wonderful city, but I rarely cross the parish line that separates Jefferson from Orleans. One-way streets, sparse parking and the often required parallel parking are a strong deterrent. Fortunately, my friend had lived in the area for many years, so we took her car.
She shared a wealth of interesting history about her former neighborhood and church. She left the church and crime ridden area after she was mugged, and then a relationship soured. A decade later, Hurricane Katrina transformed the neighborhood. The Projects, large apartment buildings that became neglected slums unfit for human habitation, had been replaced with colorful residential units resting on small manicured lawns. She was amazed to see people walking the streets and visiting businesses that serviced the needs of the neighborhood.
In the midst of this once blighted neighborhood stood a majestic church that looked more like a small palace fit for a king. The extra large wooden doors brought Martin Luther and the 95 theses he nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Church to mind. Modern glass doors that opened into the sanctuary shattered that image. Near the glass doors, a female statue holding two eyeballs on a plate made me pause. There was something strangely familiar about that image.
I made the long trek to the front of the church where most of the people were seated. From there I experienced a series of firsts. We sat on a pew near the band. Most of the Catholic churches I have visited had an organ, or guitar and singer, but this was the first time I saw one with a full band. I overheard a conversation between two people seated behind me that explained why the church used digital drums. It’s easier to control the volume of the drums with digital.
Then I had an epiphany. I had first learned about Saint Lucy and the eyeballs from a Pagan friend. She had included the saint in her book about Dracula. I mentioned that tidbit of information to my friend who stared at the ceiling.
“I have never seen the church this bright,” she said. “When I attended in the 1980s it was dark. I don’t think I ever saw the ceiling.”
I looked up at the breath taking beauty equaled only by the stain glass windows. The congregation members greeted each another with hugs and air kisses. I wondered if anyone noticed there were new faces in the crowd. My answer came moments later. A woman wearing a red ribbon adorned with Greeter in gold lettering tapped me on the shoulder.
“Is this your first time with us?” Not only my first visit, but the first time I had been greeted in a Catholic church and invited to return.
Laypeople led most of the service. A man in jeans and a pink shirt opened with prayer. The band, a mix of male and female, led us in familiar songs I have heard in Protestant churches. The priest were led into the sanctuary not by altar boys or altar girls but adult women. This was the first time I have seen adults in that role. Another first, the children were dismissed for a liturgy designed for their age.
Aside from the priest’s admonition to include both Jesus and Mary in our home, his sermon would have fit nicely in a Pentecostal church. He taught the gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues, is for the church today. That was the first time I heard a priest make that statement.
I stepped in line to receive communion. Extended my hand for the circular white host and popped it into my mouth. Three common cups awaited. I walked to the lady holding the last and least used cup. A clear liquid stared back at me. Didn’t look like grape juice, but could be the green grapes instead of red. Too late to turn back. Took a sip. WOW. Definitely not grape juice.
“What was in that cup,” I whispered to my friend? She grinned. “Sherry.” That was the first time alcohol had crossed my lips in 40 years.
The priest explained the gift of prophecy and sat down. The band played. People prayed, some spoke in tongues, and then three people spoke what they believed God had laid on their heart. First time I have been in a catholic church that allowed that to happen.
The service concluded with a woman making announcements about cell groups. She invited people to come forward for prayer. There were five chairs on the platform. Two congregation members stood at each chair. Whoever wanted prayer sat in a chair. The two church members prayed for them. Much more efficient and without doubt just as effective as people forming long lines to wait for the pastor or visiting evangelist to pray for them as though he or she were the only one God would hear.
One of the congregation members had taken my friend to the balcony, so she could take pictures of the church. I remained by the altar to ask the priest if he spoke in tongues. He left before I could get his attention. I walked to the back of the church to look for a church bulletin and ran into the greeter who had welcomed me at the beginning of the service. She gave me a welcome packet and asked for my address and email.
“Does your priest speak in tongues?”
“Yes,” she said.
“When a priest leaves do they send a replacement that speaks in tongues?”
“They are supposed to but there are not many priests in the area that do, but they usually convert before they leave.”
The Charismatic Catholic movement started in the late 60s and it does not seem to have waned. God’s cleverness always amazes me. I really liked this church, and would visit again, but God led me to a Protestant church when I was a teenager. I doubt I will ever return to Catholicism.