June 26, 2008

Gathering

Posted in Highlights at 3:58 pm by elcic2

In back of the Anglican Cathedral in Montreal is a lovely public square. Weekday daytimes its benches and tree-shaded spots are filled with local office workers and homeless people alike catching a break, a smoke, a cup of coffee, some spare change. A bust of its namesake, Raoul Wallenberg, stands at the focus of one of two ordered gathering centres within the square. In the other, a burbling fountain marks the focus. The square is surrounded by office towers, department stores, restaurants and pubs, and sits atop one of the most expansive of downtown Montreal’s several-stories-down underground shopping malls.

We’d checked in to our various residences and picked up our nametags and great conference bags, Montreal tourist brochures and conference itinerary information, and made our way to Wallenberg Square for the opening Eucharist and first gathering of the conference. Bit by bit we came from our various places, from the chaos and rush of travel, check-in, finding our places and directions to the conference site, to gather – and, as these things happen, these national gatherings, gathering meant seeing familiar faces, friends not seen perhaps since the last conference 2 years ago, or from much longer ago. Hugs and other warm greetings, shouts of surprise, new introductions being made, the marks of relationship being shown.

But also visible was a different mark. Upon entry to the public square each of us was greeted warmly by a volunteer who then wrote a number from 1 to 4 on the backs of our hands. Shortly we were asked to gather in groups according to the numbers. Each group was to be a ‘voice’ in responses to prayers offered in the coming liturgy.

It seemed that we were called to order at a certain point: called in to hear the liturgical greeting by the Bishop of Montreal. But we were called to a mix of order-in-chaos, and chaos-in-order that was to give us all a hint of what was to come. One might think easily of chaos as a negative, the mess out of which we are gathered into the formed order of worship of God. But from the first words that gathered us, any suspicions of “order-good; chaos-bad (or at least weird” were thrown upside down.

We were bidden to reflect , in Raoul Wallenberg Square, about the ways in which the human striving for order has been sin: the order of the trains that ran on time to the death-camps during the Second World War; the order by which military precision has been a servant of the death-idol; the order by which classes and races are kept apart; the allure of the ‘comfort’ of orderliness. After the reading of the first lesson, the story of Moses striking the rock, we were then invited to wash off the numbers on our hands.

From there we processed down Union Street and into the cathedral, marched in by drummers, and past amused and bemused Wednesday-night shoppers on the sidewalk.

The opening service was a lovely combination of congregational singing of familiar hymns and choir performance of an order of the mass by a young Canadian composer (sorry – will have to provide the name later!!) whose setting ordered choral SATB with a recording of what might to some at first to seem like chaotic noise. On close listening, we heard as the accompanying instruments environmental sounds of traffic , bells, various atmospheric wooshes and swooshes and things that normally are background sound and noise, whether noticed or not, in our everyday lives.

Powerful sermon, thank you to the Rev’d Dr. Gordon Lathrup. I hope we’ll have a text of his to post here because I dare not try to summarize it.

Sent forth, we went on to enjoy the hospitality of the cathedral and the local planning committee over glasses of wine and good fruit and veggie platters, back again in Wallenberg Square.

– post by Dr. Eileen Scully, Coordinator for Worship and Ministry, Anglican Church of Canada (ACC)

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