Church #43, Union Missionary Baptist Church


Church name/type: Union Missionary Baptist (Not sure of the exact denomination)

Pastor: Reverend Victor E Covington

Style of worship: A regular format with portions for prayer, announcements, sermon and communion- heavy on music but less so on singable (for the newcomer) music

Overall Impression: Great! …until the very end

This church really had alot going for it. Of the several in a cluster on my project map, I chose one this week with a nice website. A nice website tells me 1) the church is still operating as a church 2) they realize most people are online these days 3) gives the service times 4) sometimes parking tips 5) denomination/philosophy. So I knew not everything would be a surprise at this place. I had to rush off to work afterwards and I didn’t want them springing a 3 hour service on me.

The service started with a thanks to God that we made it to today and God kept us safe. The ‘thanks for being alive’ stuff is something of a recent pattern in the churches I’m moving into at this point in the project. I guess it’s good to remember the simple stuff we forget we have. I find it hard to explain why but this church reminds me a little of the one I attended as a child. I think it’s partly the shape of the church and how the outside is plain and the inside is sunny. Also the people here seem open and friendly. The usher sat me next to a dad with a baby. She made silly faces at me most of the service.

I liked the way no one turned to look at me before I introduced myself at new visitor’s time. This week I was literally the only white person there, but I didn’t feel misplaced at all. I went up front during a call for prayer time. More than half of the congregation was up there so it didn’t feel weird. I liked the music which was an organ and drum set. It was very peppy and both performers really seemed to know what they were doing. I even recognized one of the songs (basically the Glory Be prayer set to music).

The sermon started by describing the two ordinances of Baptist churches; 1) baptism by immersion 2) communion. Then pastor went on to describe communion. The Lord’s Supper is something Christians have done together for 2000 years. We commemorate Jesus’ suffering at the hands of others. This reminds us that we are at fault and someone else suffered. I think it’s pertinent sometimes to think of our mistakes that have caused others to suffer, because once we acknowledge this we can learn. We remember Jesus suffered so we can have life. Pastor Covington said, “There’s no greater love than a man who lays down his life for his friends.” I do believe at the very least that Jesus sacrificed himself so twelve others wouldn’t be killed. I think we should always honor those who suffer so we can have__. We also heard that communion is a celebration and also contemplation and it’s a very important thing.

Then came the bit that seemed kinda like a turnoff. Pastor Covington said that we cannot come to the the table if we are committing sin or have not been saved. He said he does not practice an open communion. He named a list of sins that were unacceptable to communing. He said he didn’t mean to turn anyone away and that we ought go get right with God and come receive. But the thing is, he is deterring people with words like this. He was closing communion to me because I probably don’t fall into his category of ‘the saved’. The worst part about this week was that I really felt nice at this place. I wanted to return- I still do. It’s just hard to hear that I’ll never be welcome to take communion with them if I don’t do it their way and have a saved moment. I think I am safe. I think I am alright. It feels wrong and unnecessary to question this to myself. So I’m left very mixed about this one.

What did you wish happened: I really wanted to see what the membership was like to talk to. I was sorry that I had to head to work right at the end. This is why I still might return. The people all seemed warm and friendly and a number of them said hello and even remembered my name. Still very torn on my church assessment…

Church #42, Mother Theresa’s

Date: 9/22/13

Church name/type: Mother Theresa’s Catholic Community, Roman Catholic mission community and halfway house

Pastor: Father Peter Young

Style of worship: A short Catholic mass with very few formalities

Overall Impression: This is a great place

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this place. Being unable to find a website I had no idea which group was in the building. I was surprised to discover that it was another Catholic mass I was attending. Catholic formulas are fairly unmistakeable so I was sure I wasn’t wrong. I briefly wondered if it was some kind of breakaway independent group.

After a short mass I got to talk with Father Young. He confirmed that the building used to be Our Lady Help of Christians church but that closed down. Sometime after he/his group obtained the building as a halfway house and he began giving mass at 4pm Sunday afternoons, followed by dinner. He said everyone just calls this place Mother Theresa’s. It is not listed on the diocese website because it isn’t a church as such which I suppose would be subject to the need for a certain volume in order to remain open. He is an ordained priest who pretty much does mass because he wants to.

I also got to talk extensively with another Catholic priest named Simon Udemgba. He told me stories about Nigeria and the formation of the country (by Britain) out of two large neighboring areas of different ethnicities. As it was explained to m, because it was around the Niger River it was called Niger-Area (Nig-eria! get it?). For a long time a king in the North ran the country- with Britain’s approval of course. Now that they have been experiencing independence and democracy for a while rulers have generally come from the North. Currently there is a ruler from the East and that is very exciting.

So now that I’ve sidetracked you for a history lesson, I’ll get back to how I liked this church. My first thoughts were not encouraging. The sanctuary has kind of a worn out look to it. There were barely 30 people in attendance at mass. Once I got past these details I noticed things. Like the fact that everyone was dressed very casual and they all seemed pretty happy to be there. A portion of the mass involved all of us moving to the center aisle and holding hands. It’s something that just can’t be done at a large church. It’s a very visceral feeling that now you are connected directly with each if these people. And there was taking during mass. I mean a comfortable easy talking. Listen, there are churches where any message to be conveyed is whispered quickly so as not to disturb the stuck up lady with the perfect hairdo. And there are churches where teens who don’t give a care giggle throughout service while moms look at their watches. This church was neither of those. The people here seemed relaxed friendly and open. And by outward appearance all different from one another. Outfits, hair, skin color, and accent were all varied. Yet there was fully a sense of community. Even more than this was a sense of belonging and being ok.

I think sometimes there are certain expectations surrounding words like ‘halfway house’ and in the visual of an old looking church building or worn looking clothing. I think these ideas invade us from society and culture. Places, people and traits get lumped together and when you see an old building with houses around that have no lawns, you immediately make decisions about what sort of people you will find. They are in trouble, desperate, sad, you tell yourself. They are so needy, you reason, someone has to feed them dinner once a week. But this is all conjecture and you realize you have no idea what any of their lives are actually like. You realize calling them ‘the needy’ is ridiculous simply because they need things. Everyone does. And I am just as needy as a person who struggles financially. My church this morning said to look into their eyes. But this means they will also look into yours. I need too, and some of what I need is spending time others who are genuine. This is how the people at this church struck me. Without even knowing me or what I might need, they fed me dinner and conversation. And I still don’t know much about them. Except that maybe I need more of whatever they have.

Facebook!: Look for Mother Theresa Catholic Community – spelled like that with an h in Theresa.

Church #41, Saint Francis of Assisi on Delaware Ave

Date: 9/22/13

Church name/type: St Francis of Assisi Delaware Ave, Roman Catholic

Pastor: Reverend Leo O’Brien

Style of worship: the usual Catholic style format with some casual bits mixed in

Overall Impression: My favorite Catholic church so far!

This church was particularly refreshing. The first thing we did after announcements was to turn to our neighbor and give them a nice greeting and exchange names. This was as directed by the officiant at the time (deacon I think- I sat too far back again). He then said, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

I noticed the announcements included a call to join small groups which I suppose meet at someone’s house about religious stuff. Also requested were donations to a food pantry and outreach efforts to give away toiletries to those in need. In fact the whole message of the day was focused on mercy and ministering to those in need. We were encouraged to ‘look into the eyes’ of a needy person. I wonder if everyone in positions with any kind privilege or power could do this, if they’d realize it is a person and not just a statistic. We heard that budget cuts to the government could threaten programs like food stamps. Maybe it’s time for contacting our reps about this. As someone who has had several close friends that utilize food stamps, I see it as a worthwhile program that needs to stay.

We also had our attention called to some of Pope Francis’ recent remarks regarding the attention we pay to various problems. The Pope said in an interview that the Catholic Church has become obsessed with certain details. He said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods…
It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!”
The injured person metaphor the Pope used again highlights the focus on issues of sexuality and reproductive choices while hunger and poverty are largely ignored. I wonder, how can we call ourselves compassionate if we condemn someone for going through with an abortion while saying and doing nothing to alleviate their struggle to make ends meet (which may have even been responsible for that choice)? This disconnect is a major problem in the Catholic Church that the Pope is taking the lead trying to fix.

Here is where I found the Pope’s remarks by the way. Pope said this.

So now that I’ve sidetracked this post I’ll try and get back to how church was. I have to admit I liked it. Right towards the very end of mass the question was asked “Anybody visiting today?” I stuck my hand in the air and said thus said hello to the entire congregation. It’s the first time I’ve had this type of large-scale greeting in a Catholic church. After the dismissal song one of the deacons caught me and we got into some conversation. He said to call him Deacon Jim. He asked me a bunch of questions about my journey.

Being so prompted, I told him I was raised Catholic and experienced some difficulty finding a church to love and belong in after going away to college. I said my journey to the various churches of Albany was partly a spiritual quest and often informational if nothing else. He asked about what churches or denominations appealed to me this far. I named Presbyterian, ELCA Lutheran and the Reformed Churches. I said that I find the Catholic Church upsetting in its opposition to homosexuality. He pointed out that not only did his congregation include gay couples, but the Pope himself had been making more remarks about His discomfort with Catholic anti-gay obsessiveness (this was before I had read the interview I link above). We both wondered about where the relatively new Pope was taking us as a Church and I think we both hoped it was someplace good.

So from this interaction I learned several things. First was the encouraging bit of news that even some Catholic churches are going against the doctrine of their hierarchy and functioning in a mildly independent way. Second I see that this is still allowed within that hierarchy- St Francis Church hasn’t had to go rogue or anything. They are listed on the diocese website. This all makes me really happy about my Catholic heritage and hopeful for what else might be out there.

After mass?: No gathering time. But it does help that the deacon specifically sought me out. Also the mention of small groups at the start of mass means they are trying to build community rather than ignoring each other. And I approve of that.

Church #40, Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Albany

Date: 9/15/13

Church name/type: Mount Calvary Baptist, part of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc

Pastor: This church is in a transition to a new pastor who hasn’t been chosen/found yet. Our guest pastor was Reverend Gertrude Harris of Macedonia Baptist Church.

Style of worship: I found the format had a surprisingly formal structure for songs, children’s time, announcements, prayer, scripture and sermon. It ran a bit long, but the length was from singing and announcements rather than a drawn-out sermon.

Overall Impression:
Seems pretty good

So another baptist church with mostly black membership. This time I felt less awkward and out of place. By comparison to this church, I think I figured out why I disliked Metropolitan Baptist. The size was too big. I had this problem also with Bethlehem Community. I don’t want to go overkill describing these other two churches so I’ll just say that size matters and a church can be too small, but it can also be too big. Thankfully Mount Calvary Baptist was neither of these things.

So this church had a good bulletin. It clearly outlined all parts of service and gave numbers for the hymns in their hymnal. It also had a short statement at the top which read:

This is the house of God. Be thoughtful; be reverent. Speak to God before the service, let God speak to you during the service and speak to one another after the service.

It’s nice to have such a statement for newcomers because it sets a tone regarding expectations. Actually there was still an amount of speaking during service. I was greeted by a man sitting near me and by the entire congregation during the ‘greeting of visitors’. I was asked to say my name and anything else I would like to share. I said my first name and that I was seeing different churches around Albany. A few people came up to me after service to chat briefly as well. It was kind of nice to feel not ignored.

The sermon was energetic, but never dissolved into something unintelligible. The pastor shouted out some of the message, but in a way different from other shouted sermons I’ve heard; I’m talking about the ones where it’s all catchphrases- “God is yes. God is amen!”- Those make zero sense to me. Nor was it a simple recitation of a bible story. The sermon was about the prophet Jeremiah and the Babylonian captivity. Pastor told us Jeremiah is sometimes called the weeping prophet. He has a massive amount of bad things in his life. He was put into a pit, beaten, disowned and arrested. His whole life was changed by the Babylonian capture of the land that was Judah. Part of the Book of Lamentations is him complaining about all this. I think I would. And of course we do complain. Pastor said we find it hard waiting on God when everyone else gets — (fill in your own desired thing). But somehow the pastor managed to make the message seem hopeful. The energy with which she described our own struggles made it feel like the whole church was alive, and like struggles are not so bad. The strength of her voice and the shouts from the congregation rose to such a pitch it was as though we were talking not of sadness and struggle but of triumph and success. Then the moment passed and the sermon was ended. And I’m having trouble figuring out just what made the talk(shout) so dynamic and happy when it was something of a downer for poor Jeremiah. I guess that’s part of what to carry away from this week’s adventure. Part if life is how you see it. Sadness can increase if you see your life as sad, or decrease if you see it as hopeful. As someone who has been depressed at times I realize this answer is somewhat simplistic. Yet I’m drawn to it because it advocates examining one’s outlook. And that’s definitely one important aspect of dealing with life’s problems.

Website?: No website. They should definitely get one. Either that or a Facebook page. Great churches need websites today in our age of information. At least that’s how I see it.

Church #39, First Church in Albany

Date: 9/8/13

Church name/type: First Church in Albany, RCA (Reformed)

Pastor: Reverend John Paarlberg

Style of worship: Casual with structure, including lots of spoken participation and musical chairs style passing of the peace

Overall Impression: good, chatty

RCA churches are big in this area and the denomination seems to be a good one. It is called First Church because it was the first, existing before there was even an Albany! At the time this area was just a Dutch trading post. Of course the term ‘church’ refers to the group. No building from the 1600’s would look as good as the current structure looks.

As I normally do, I checked for a website first for the service time, which was clearly posted. The website looks pleasant and in good working order, with the sermon topic for this Sunday also up there. I cannot stress enough how good I think it is that churches have a nice functional website. My next three churches after this one do not have websites at all and I’m actually shocked that in this day and age a church would not bother with a website of any kind.

So parking was relatively easy to find, as was the church entrance and sanctuary. Before service started a woman in the row near me introduced herself and began asking me about myself. We chatted a little bit and she welcomed me upon discovering this was my first visit. I also got a chance to peruse the bulletin and read the little statement about the church. They included a bit about the community including not only a variety of ages and ethnicities but also different sexualities which are welcomed. As I understand it the RCA as a denomination is struggling with disagreement over the issue of homosexuality and gay membership. I hope eventually they work it out and come to the conclusion that First Church has come to; namely that loving someone who happens to share your gender is not intrinsically sinful.

The service went pretty much as I expected. I was able to easily follow the printed outline (another thing that a surprising number of churches fail to do). If it was my church I’d make the insert a different color for clarity, however I did figure that the middle paper was to be removed in order to follow the service. The sermon today was about creation. I heard the term “Book of Nature” for the first time. It seems to relate this idea that things in nature speak of God just as a written book does. I have encountered the idea before. The pastor was careful to state that this is not simply the equating of nature with God. Instead he contends that God had such an abundance of love that he made something outside himself that was good like he was. I’m not sure I’m totally following this metaphor, but it seems harmless enough- I mean it says God is full of love, which I strongly believe.

There was also some stuff in the sermon about taking care of God’s creation by taking care of the environment. We prayed for forgiveness that we treat earth’s resources so lightly and for the fact that we have pushed global warning along. This is nice to see from a church. Many Christian groups ignore or even deny environmental concerns. I have heard it reasoned that God created humans as special and being the center of attention, it is our right to use animals and the earth indiscriminately. I guess there are some who also believe God will eventually physically create a new earth for us if when we mess this one up. Anyway taking care of our surroundings strikes me as a better plan than making God build us a new planet.

After the sermon we took communion. This church has a long table set up in the center aisle for everyone to sit at during communion. Everyone doesn’t use it, but they could. Those who stay in place have an usher to bring them bread and juice. We were told that it’s usual to eat the bread immediately and take the juice as a group. I liked the instruction here. It made me feel like I knew just what to do. After church several people invited me to what they call ‘coffee and conversation’. I talked with several people and handed out some website cards. So overall it was a pretty nice Sunday.

Church #38, Iglesia Pentecostal


Church name/type: Iglesia Pentecostal, some type of Pentecostal I imagine. This was a Spanish speaking church. Iglesia is the Spanish word for church BTW.

Pastor: I’m not actually sure of the pastor’s name. She was a non-English speaker and we only interacted a little.

Style of worship: first prayer, then scripture mixed with song, sermon, and more intense prayer- The entire thing took a little over three hours. The songs were repetitive and with breaks for short witness-type explanations (God put this in my heart). The sermon was also something like an hour.

Overall Impression: Actually was a pretty short three hours.

Thoughts: Admittedly I was terrified of this particular week’s church. The door says 11am – 2pm; that’s three hours potentially all in Spanish. I took some Spanish in high school but it’s been a long time. However, from the start it actually felt pretty comfortable. People smiled at me and tried to accommodate me in English as I spoke my bad Spanish at them. The music was loud and fun, as well as repetitive enough to catch onto the words eventually. This church also had a nice range of diversity in its membership. A few of the members probably identify as black; from that all the way to the little blonde girl made a wide variety of brown shades. I fit just fine in that respect. There was English translation of the service by a bilingual member. She really impressed me. Translation on the fly is hard, and it’s not like she was a professional translator or anything.

Much of the service was fun, comfortable and interesting. There were, however parts of the message I don’t think I can get behind. Some of it was the usual ‘we have the truth and no one else does’ type stuff. And there was an odd amount of focus on demons. We prayed to expel demons at the start of worship and we learned that demons can mess with you if you aren’t wearing God’s armor (faith and love). The story of Daniel and the cloud of demons around him was referenced. So many demons were surrounding him, it took God’s angel a week to get to him- if I remember the story correctly. Also there was a heavy focus on God being behind bad things that happen. We heard that story from Acts where Paul tells a couple to give money to the church. Paul knows they are withholding cash from the church. When they act surprised, Paul scolds them and they fall down dead one after another. Am I supposed to believe God will strike me down dead if I lie? Chilling. Although it is hard to get a complete sense from another language how closely this is actually believed.

Would I go back?: Maybe. The friendliness is a strong positive factor. And this place probably had my favorite music so far.

Church #37, Metropolitan New Testament Missionary Baptist

Date: 8/18/13

Church name/type: Metropolitan New Testament Missionary Baptist, part of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc

Pastor:Reverend Dr Damone Johnson

Style of worship: praise music first, message, altar call (any coverts today?), closing

Overall Impression:I’m having a hard time with the impression synopsis this time, and don’t know if a short tidbit will do it justice. Please skip ahead to the thoughts section.

So to start with, this church is technically out of order. When I programmed my list I just typed the word “Second” into my maps program and it must have auto filled the word “Avenue” instead of “Street”. So I went to church on Sunday knowing that technically it is way too early for this church. Why did I do this? Well part of my project is to see things I haven’t before. This church is the first Baptist variety for another page and a half. Also since I’m trying to be open to this thing I call spirituality, I decided to just treat it like the spirit moved me this way. Maybe God wants me at this church right now. I thought- hey maybe I’ll find something awesome there. Well, here is what I found.

Parking was slightly confusing. The entrance seems to be at the back around a side street. I managed it and went inside. So, based on the website pictures, I had a feeling this church might be predominantly African American. Yup I was right. It’s hard to describe what it was like walking into this church. I’m pretty bad with numbers, but I guess there were about 200 people inside. I think I was the lightest face there. I’ve never felt so aware of what I looked like. I kind of knew I’d feel different, but it’s incredible how striking the feeling is, especially with the added fact that I showed up alone with little idea what to expect. I was pretty sure I stood out like a sore thumb. Is this what the 1% black population at my high school felt like every single day? For the first time in the life of my project I couldn’t decide if I was annoyed or relieved that so few people greeted me. It’s changing my ideas about greeting newcomers as once again, I gain new experiences. It may be less of a good thing to be greeted profusely if one is already afraid of standing out as different.

Ultimately I think I wanted someone to talk to me from the church lay leadership or pastoral staff, but I didn’t catch any of them and they didn’t catch me. Once again I found a church with no coffee hour. And I kinda lost track of which one the pastor was after service, so I never got to talk to him. It’s not the first time this has happened, but usually I’m able to figure it out from the context of them greeting everybody at the door on their way out. There are churches whose pastors (and deacons) dress more obviously pastor-like. All it takes is a name tag, or cloth drape, or little white collar to make the pastor stand out. That would be helpful, because I’m totally unwilling to go up to someone and wrongly guess they are a pastor. It’s just not gonna happen. Last week I greeted the deacon, thinking he was pastor and felt weird enough. Maybe I’ve been sitting too far away.

Anyhow, the service itself was familiar enough. The music was great, performed by a youth-ish choir called (from the bulletin) Metro Stars and the Drake Chorus. The message was roughly in the middle going through some verses in I John. I liked the fact that he mentioned the Gnostics and went a bit in depth in terms of context; the fact that John would have been a young disciple when Jesus was around, now writing a letter in older age to one of the churches. Pastor also mentioned that John was among the three disciples Jesus was closest to; Peter, John and James. And he spoke about the nature of Jesus, stating he was not 50% God and 50% man but rather 100% God and 100% man. He said, “If you try to understand it, you’ll lose your mind.” The Catholic Church would call that a mystery. The fact that it doesn’t make logical sense is part of the point. I’m still working on how I feel about the use of logic in religion. There’s a fair amount of religious stuff that works metaphorically. That conversation is probably for another post.

In the end, since I couldn’t figure out who was church leadership, and no one approached me, I just left. It was a little disappointing a guess. And I’m not sure why God wanted me at this church on Sunday, or if there was nothing more to the mistake.

About what I wrote:I’m really not very happy with this post. I guess that reflects my experience with the church. It seemed like an ok place, but I’m still feeling dissatisfied. It is also why I waited so long to add this up on the website. But it’s got to go up at some point so I guess now is that point.

Church #36, St Mary’s in Albany

Date: 8/11/13

Church name/type: Historic St Mary’s in Albany, Roman Catholic

Pastor: There were two priests listed in the bulletin and I actually don’t know which one preached; John Provost, or James Lefebvre

Style of worship: formal and concise

Overall Impression: predictable

So another week, another Catholic church. It was alright. It was a nice day out. The couple people I shook hands with during passing of the peace were cordial enough. The deacon was friendly after mass was finished. No coffee hour here. It’s strange to me how often that is the norm. I was raised in a college Catholic church that was also a Newman center. It was casual and often filled with college students. We always had a coffee hour afterwards. I liked loved mingling after mass. These places without it have no idea what what are missing.

I’ll talk about the building again since it had some character. The church calls itself “Historic” St Mary’s. I guess I am supposed to think of history while inside. It does look old, but up-kept. You learn in schools about the Sistine Chapel and you’re like ‘yeah yeah painted ceilings’, but painted ceilings DO actually look cool. The walls here are painted too. The Virgin Mary and some cherubs hover overhead in bright pastels; saints are farther down the walls. All this is set against a background color somewhere between pink and lavender. The floor is carpeted in a shade of green like emerald, or dark turquoise. The ceiling and floor together give the church an early morning pastoral look- as if we awaited the dawn on a country hillside, colors not quite right without the sun, but beautiful.

Besides a pretty building there wasn’t a whole lot remarkable about this place. I guess the laminated Mass card was helpful. It had most of the repetitious parts of mass so churchgoers could follow along if unfamiliar. It’s pretty much the same every week for Catholics, so your regular churchgoer has that stuff memorized.

Latin of the day:
They thought they could sneak this by me but I’m waaay too quick. Instead of normal English ‘Lamb of God’ refrain they said it in Latin. Thank you years and years of choir! I was able to chant along:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Side Trip, Kateri Shrine

So last week I did something a little different and took a small road trip to Fonda and Auriesville. There are several shrines out there honoring Saint Kateri Tekakwitha I’ve been wondering about for some time.

First some background on Kateri Tekakwitha:
She was a Native American woman of part Mohawk and part Algonquin decent. She lived from 1656-1680. Her mother was baptized Catholic but died of smallpox when Tekakwitha was only four. Smallpox also took her father, and wrecked her eyesight. (Tekakwitha means, ‘reaches out with hands’ and was given to describe her way of walking tentatively with hands out.) After her parents died, Tekakwitha went to live with her aunt and uncle. They were opposed to Catholics, but put up with priests living in the village because of a treaty at the time which ordered them to do so. Tekakwitha eventually went to the priests to ask for baptism against the wishes of her aunt and uncle. She was given the saint name Catherine- Kateri in her tongue. After her public acceptance of Catholicism, Kateri found her village a difficult place to stay, so she moved to a more Catholic-friendly settlement in Canada. She was apparently very pious, often fasting and hurting herself as means of penance. At one point she kept thorns in her sleeping mat. She devoted her life to Jesus and remained a virgin until her death, refusing marriage.
She died rather young and seems to have simply wasted away. I guess it’s not that surprising with all the painful things she did to herself. Even the priests note that her frequent penances seemed to be harming her health. After her death, it’s said her skin miraculously transformed and her smallpox scars faded away. Kateri Tekakwitha has recently been officially upgraded from ‘blessed’ to ‘saint’.

Kateri is honored by the Auriesville shrine and has her own shrine in Fonda. We visited both on a ridiculously hot day in which our car had no air conditioning. Both shrines had a museum with some Native American historical stuff. Because Natives lived here so long and were so diverse, it’s hard to get an idea what they were like from a quick walk-through of several rooms. I am bad with European history, but America before Europeans is all one big mish-mash to me. Because I live in NY I remember hearing about the groups that make up the Iroquois and the fact that their enemies were called the Algonquins. Kateri was part Mohawk (Iroquois) and part Algonquin. Her mother was an Iroquois captive of the Algonquins and may have had very little choice about the marriage. It’s really interesting to imagine all the elements at work in Kateri’s world. Cultures are mixed together in her and different traditions. How did she make sense of it all? Why did she come to choose Catholicism? How do Native Americans feel about her sainthood? I got very few answers from my actual visit to the two shrines. Most of the stories about Kateri were very ‘fairy tale’ sounding, similar to the legends we have of Saint Valentine or Saint Patrick. Some of them were probably whitewashed for general consumption. And speaking of whitewashing, one version of the events after Kateri died explains that her skin turned “so beautiful and so white”. I realize the color white is symbolic in religious literature, but idolizing whiteness especially as a direct reference to skin color becomes really problematic. I’m really not sure how I feel about Kateri. This one definitely deserves more research and maybe a return trip to the shrines/museums.

Gluten Free Worship

In my travels and reading about religion I have yet to come across someone describing the difficulties of being gluten-free in church. I recently went gluten-free for a short time, as recommended by my doctor, and I found it really difficult to avoid all the gluteny pitfalls. One of these pitfalls that really caught me by surprise was taking holy communion. Drinking either juice or wine and eating bread are a huge part of the experience for most Christians. It’s a way of connecting to Christ- often described in terms that sound mystical. If you believe the bread becomes the body of Christ, either literally or symbolically, taking that into your body is very special. Christ enters Christians during communion. Because Christ and God are one and the same, that’s a pretty big deal. Some people (I’m thinking of devout Catholic saints and such) get an ecstatic high from taking communion. Because of my background, I place emphasis on the importance of communion. Going gluten-free means avoiding anything that might be made with wheat. That means not taking communion, unless you know for sure what ingredients were used for the bread/cracker/wafer. And because I was raised Catholic, avoiding communion has other implications: 1) It could mean I’m non-Catholic or 2) It could mean I’ve committed some grave sin and haven’t yet confessed it to a priest. It’s hard to skip communion at any church without thinking of these two things. I do think alot about first impressions and assumptions. On some level it definitely bugs me that those around me may think I’m sinful or not a Christian (which in many cases also equals sinful).

Aside from the difficulties surrounding communion there is also the coffee hour problem. Churches that do a ‘coffee hour’ generally offer both coffee and snacks. The snacks are usually cakes, breads, crackers and cookies. All made with wheat and not so good if one is avoiding gluten. As a newcomer you get offered stuff as a matter of welcome. ‘Take a pamphlet.’ ‘Have a cookie.’ ‘Did you get coffee?’ ‘Julie made that cake, try some!’ The hardest part for me was blending politeness and discretion. I don’t like coffee and couldn’t eat cake. Should I say all that? It’s none of their business really. They don’t need to get all the details of my trial and error messing with my diet saga. But I like having something to do with my hands. And I don’t want to seem rude in not accepting their hospitality. So I mostly just ate around the gluten. At one place I had nothing but juice. There was a church that had strawberries- I took a bunch of those. At a third place I ate the cheese part of a cheesecake square and tossed out the crust. This would of course be less of a problem if I became a member at any of these churches. Then I could find out whether the bread used at communion is gluten-free or not.

Currently I’m off the diet and can have wheat again. But the experiment was a good one in terms of getting another facet of certain churchgoers experiences. If I stumble across any interesting stories about communion and gluten, I’ll take note and share here.