Church #61, Mater Christi

Date: 7/20/14

Church name/type: Mater Christi, Roman Catholic Church- formed from the merger of St Teresa of Avila and St Catherine of Siena in 2009

Pastor: Father Kenneth Doyle

Style of worship: Short formally structured mass

Useful takeaways:
So this church is pretty full, and has a decent mix of ages and ethnicities. I think I see some Philipinos and (I think) some folks from Pakistan or India.

The sermon was on the parable of the wheat and the weeds (or tares). The priest took the usual interpretation of this story and related that it spoke of final judgement. The story describes the farmer collecting the wheat and tares then separating them after the harvest into a pile to save and a pile to be burnt. So those not accepted into heaven are relegated to fire in this metaphor. Father Doyle made a point of cautioning us not to see this story as a source of fear. He reasoned that God created us as a sort of project, hoping we would turn out successfully. If the project was a massive failure God could scrap it at any time. We therefore think most people do make it to heaven. We are always working to be good and when we do sin, we repent of that sin and keep trying.

Interestingly, this brings up something I mentioned in a past post. Repentance in certain Protestant churches is seen as a big one-time occurrence. It is supposed to be the massive life changing event of accepting Jesus. The Catholic idea of repentance seems to be simply the admission of wrongdoing- the equivalent of a confession. I find the Catholic version of repentance more realistic. I myself feel like I am continually working to not commit wrongs. Goodness doesn’t just flow from me via knowing Christ. I still yell, I still misjudge others, I still react in anger. I know I have to face that and continue trying to do better. That, to me, is repentance.

I was literally four minutes late and the mass was basically in full swing when I arrived. Seems like they could hold off five minutes because it’s summer and people run late.

Again no coffee hour to hang around and get to know anybody. Am I weird for wanting one?

Church #59, St John the Evangelist and St Joseph

Date: 6/22/14

Church name/type: St John the a Evangelist and St Joseph, Roman Catholic

Pastor: most of the mass, including homily, was done by the deacon- Greg Mansfield

Style of worship: Shortened Catholic mass – it was interrupted by a double baptism

Useful takeaways:
I’ll start by describing the church, because I like doing that. This church has so much going on visually, but in a kind of balanced and subtle way. Upon entering and looking around, I noticed the space is tall and white with crests and domes that merge into each other gently at the ceiling. All along the sides of the church there are stained glass windows and raised, painted stations of the cross. If you glance up a little higher you note saint statues perched up of ledges. All around this same area are paintings of saints and biblical scenes. At the front left of the church is a large white PietĂ -esque statue. At the front right is a life-sized, realistically* colored crucifix Jesus. Near the crucifix is a child Jesus statue clothed in a robe and holding an orb. (It is just like one my grandmother used to have in her house for which the robe was cloth material and could be changed! I forgot to note whether this was the case at St’s John/Joseph) Also impressive is the giant pipe organ over the entrance at the back of the church. If I had to guess I’d say it has maybe 200 pipes. Several more saint statues are at the back of the church. Surprisingly, it did not feel the same as the painted color explosion I felt at St Sophia’s, the extremely decorated Orthodox Church. The imagery wasn’t overwhelming and I was truly surprised that so much could fit so unobtrusively into the space.

The sermon was short, I suppose in attempt to make time for the baptism; so short in fact I missed it. I really thought it was a simple intro to something longer, then when church was over I noticed I’d written no sermon notes.

I did make note of a couple of my thoughts on the bible verses. I am finding I do this more often at Catholic churches and I think I can guess why. For one thing the readings are always separate from the sermon, allowing a little time for me to reflect on what I think about them. Another reason may be that the strict formality expected at a Catholic church lends itself to a very clear, crisp enunciation of the verses. A third reason may lie in the dialect at these churches being similar to my own.

This Sunday I was caught by a verse from Deuteronomy. God is talking to the Israelites who are suffering in the wilderness. He says, “I brought you here to test you. To see if you would keep my commandments.” Normally I don’t agree with a sentiment that suggests God plays games with us to make sure we will stay faithful. This time it occurred to me that maybe this verse is about the intersection of suffering and goodness. It’s easier for me to be good when I’m feeling good. If I feel hurt and angry I’m more prone to lashing out at others. This verse conveys the idea to me that we all need to remember to be good when things are bad. God expects us to behave ourselves even when other factors make it hard for us. It’s not easy, but we can’t stop striving for it.

With so many members, maybe they should staff more than just one door with greeters.

There was no after-church gathering time/coffee-hour.

I had very mixed feelings about the notice in the bulletin for a support group for those with “same-sex attraction”. I’ll talk more about this my next post!

*By realistically colored, I mean Jesus looks like a fair-skinned white person with dark hair.

Church #46, Saint Francis of Assissi, South End Community

Date: 12/1/13

Church name/type: Saint Francis of Assissi, South End Community, Roman Catholic

Pastor: Deacon Ray Sullivan and guest pastor I can’t guess at the spelling of his name.

Style of worship: short Catholic mass, formal with casual add-ins

Overall Impression: Seems like a nice place

The church was easy to find and enter; the building was warm and up-kept. It was a smaller space I might call a chapel. The interior was white, with green and golden tan and small stained glass windows close to the floor. One cool noticeable was what looked like a ‘1000 paper cranes’ mobile. One of the things I love abut the Catholic Church is it’s ability to borrow from other traditions. Many of our holidays are placed at a certain time of year because the early church borrowed from holidays already being celebrated. The 1000 paper cranes is often a symbol of the wish for peace, but can be vague enough to represent any wish one makes deep in one’s heart. It’s not the first time I’ve seen these cranes in a Catholic Church and I for one, like them.

I was greeted warmly at this church by smiles and ‘good morning’s both at the beginning of mass and at the passing of the peace. The church membership seems a friendly bunch. Although there was no coffee hour after mass, several people came up to me to say hello and chat briefly.

The sermon was fairly short. It was in regards to advent. The church season of advent is the expectation of Christmas. But how can we anticipate with excitement, a thing that is happened and over? It is ridiculous to try and manufacture this feeling. So what can we do with this time? The suggestion was to get a ‘checkup for the soul’. We should ask ourselves- how are we grateful? -how are we spoiled? I like the thoughtful nature of this sermon’s questions. I struggle with the question of how I’m doing and if I’m a positive force in the world. I think there are times church should make us comfortable and times it should make us uncomfortable. For instance we shouldn’t be content with helping only ourselves. We shouldn’t be content with sitting at home when we could be volunteering. I’m not the best at this, so I’m glad the church keeps reminding me to seek to do better.

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.

Absorbed churches

So I’m going through my list of churches and correcting it. I have added several churches and cancelled several churches. The additions are those churches not in the phone book from last year. It seems the phone book also categorizes certain no-longer-functioning churches as churches. This is especially true of Catholic churches. I’m finding many instances where a church had to merge with another church. It’s a weird feeling seeing all these old parishes gone and wondering about their membership. Because these are Catholic churches I presume the closures were not because of dwindling membership but probably lack of priests. That’s been a problem in Catholic churches for more than a few years. Here are the churches that seem to have merged:
Our Lady Help of Christians
Web searches for this church lead either to the Cathedral or to the still extant cemetery called Our Lady Help Christians. A found a source suggesting this church used the building in the South End area on the corner of Second Avenue and Krank Street. I drove by this building and it’s clear someone is using this building as a church. There is a sign advertising church at 4pm. This probably means another group took the building and is either renting or bought it.
St John’s and St Ann’s
Due to the already joint name, it seems this church represented two joined parishes which then merged with another parish. All signs on the internet point to the merge location as St Francis of Assisi South End.

As usual I welcome any better information readers out there might have on these closed churches. Just leave a comment.

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.

Church #26, Church of Saint Vincent De Paul


Church name/type: Saint Vincent De Paul (Roman Catholic)

Format type: Catholic mass, the usual formula

Overall Impression: Seems ok

So it’s not the first time I’ve visited Vincent De Paul. I used to go occasionally when it was down the street in my college days. I liked the church and the priest (who is still there), so I was stumped as to why I never made this my home church. This week I remembered; Vincent De Paul is mainly families with kids. As such it exudes a friendly vibe, but it’s extremely kid-focused. They even mentioned Catholic Youth Conference, which is a thing I didn’t even know existed! Its great that a church has such involved youth, but it did make me feel like I have nothing to say to other adults unless I have some kids to talk about. Seems like this sort of thing appeals to a lot of folks since the church was packed.

I will duly make note of the things that contribute to the draw of Vincent De Paul.
1) The church has moveable seats which may be rearranged or removed if the room needs to be repurposed.
2) No kneelers!
3) The space is clean, bright and warm, and looks new (which probably means it’s painted and cleaned regularly).
4) The musical instrumentation varies with each song. I heard: guitar, trumpet, drums, organ, flute, and harmonica.
5) There are greeters at the entry doors AND ushers to seat more people as mass progresses. This one is actually a double whammy because it also points to the fact that those coming in late are welcomed inside.
6) There is a sign language translator at this church. Not only are the unchanging parts of mass translated, but the homily (sermon) as well.
7) Father Chris DeGiovine. I met him first through Saint Rose. He holds a position there called “Dean of Spiritual Life”, and hangs out in the interfaith center. I find him engaging and friendly, and I know that many others do too. Since he works for the campus, he’s probably not going anywhere- also a big draw for Catholics. Priests get moved around so often with no warning.

That sums up the best parts. I have just a couple negatives to mention. Father Chris’s sermons are great but I often feel like they stop short just when they are about to get good. I crave something in depth and they usually hover just above the level I’m hoping for. I guess thats not much of a complaint. Second thing is, when did they replace round hosts with kibble? Because that’s totally what it looked like when I went for communion. It was cracker-ish and tasted boring, but was dense and shaped like a square puffy pillow. Again I guess that’s a lame complaint at best, but it was definitely a surprise.

Compare? I’d take this place over the Cathedral any day, but overall I’m finding the lack of personal interaction in Catholic Churches the biggest turnoff. Sure I spoke with Father Chris and my one friend I already knew. But no one else spoke to me. Based on the friendly vibe there’s a possibility that this had to do with size and its corresponding new-face-recognition problem. But Roman Catholics are showing themselves rather reserved in most of my experiences, so I’ve come to expect the low interaction.

Church #25, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Date: 2/3/13

Church name/type: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic)

Format summary: standard Catholic mass with 360 degree style greeting

Overall Impression: the building is really the exciting part

So, back to my heritage again! A Catholic Church. It’s actually quite striking the things they’ve changed in the few years I have been absent. For example “the Lord be with you” is now followed by “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you”. Ignoring this type of thing the mass is pretty much as I remember it.

Since the appearance of this place is its most striking feature, I will spend some time describing it. Once inside one is impressed by its size which is actually somewhat deceptive. The ceiling is very high, but the room isn’t gigantic going front to back. One can sit at the back and feel like it ought to be the middle. The other deceptive bit going on is the front doesn’t quite feel like the front. The altar is a bit removed from the seats and the readings are done from a little “tower” (not sure what else to call it) which is ascended by a short staircase. These two factors give the feeling of being removed from the priest and the action. I suppose this is intentional, albeit old-school, given the rigidity of hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church.

On this particular Sunday, I noticed it felt rather warm for such a chilly day. The warmth comes up through grates in the floor then rises to the ceiling…to warm the Saints’ toes I guess. How much does it cost I wondered to keep this building heated? My eyes were drawn everywhere by stone fixtures and stained glass. It’s really incredible to see a structure with this kind of carved stone in it today. The stone manifests itself as knots and ribbons on the ceiling, and as three dimensional, near-life-size representations of the stations of the cross around the room. As I understand it, the art of stone cutting is basically dead, so I especially enjoy having both the Cathedral and the Capitol building in Albany. The rectangle bricks making the walls are soft pink colors; joined but still distinct. Every window seems to be stained glass. This means there are two rows over every wall; a lower row and a higher row. The front and rear have fantastic large windows as well, all depicting saints and scenes biblical. The structure is such that pillars rise from the floor at regular intervals to meet the ceiling above. These pillars are grooved and lined to mesh with the linearity of the other architectural elements and the orderly layout of the building. I could spend many many Sundays ignoring mass while I stared at the beauty of the building, following lines with my eyes and fondling the smoothness of stone beyond the reach of my fingers’ touch. This, I suppose, is why the ancient church built cathedrals. To be inside something like this was meant to elevate from the ordinary and bring one to a realm of the supernatural.

So what about the service itself? Well, it didn’t do much for me. There was no one greeting people at the door so I helped myself to a bulletin. It’s good that I did because this church has no missals, songbook, or books of any kind in the pews. Even with a pamphlet of the mass format, I noticed the actual words don’t follow it exactly, which was a bit distracting. At the end of mass we had the option to have a throat blessing to protect against illness. I’ve gotten this once before. The priest uses a pair of crossed candles and puts them on the sides of your neck with some words. This time the priest used a giant two pronged candle. It was kinda cool. I could have talked to the priest this time but I couldn’t think of anything to say. There didn’t seem to be any fellowship hall and everyone else left. So I just left.

The big question: How do these people fellowship?

Life-Saving Abortion, Savita and Catholic views

I want to post about a news story. It’s really been bothering me and on my mind because there’s some stuff I need to say about it.
Here is a link to an article about it:


Several weeks ago a woman named Savita Halappanavar was taken to a hospital in Ireland, 17 weeks pregnant and in pain. She was miscarrying the child and it would not survive. It seems pretty clear from all I’ve read that there was just no saving that baby. Savita herself was succumbing to an infection which required removal of the dying baby/fetal tissue (we can argue semantics later). Doctors at the hospital refused to do the removal because 1) the baby had a heartbeat 2) this makes it abortion 3) abortions are illegal in Ireland under all circumstances. So this mom suffered for three days and finally died along with the baby. Once Savita had learned the baby would not make it, she requested an abortion; she requested it more than once. Doctors said no. The baby inside her was killing her by poisoning her blood (septicemia), but she couldn’t get treatment to save her because it involved killing a dying baby.
*By the way, people do not even all agree that at 17 weeks it should be called a baby. No delivery is EVER viable until more than 20 weeks. Deliveries before 23 weeks are extremely likely to result in the child dying soon after or having severe disabilities requiring lifelong care.

Many people are outraged by this story. I am one of them. Ireland has it on the books that abortion is illegal. Some years ago a court ruled that legislation be passed to make it allowable in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. The only problem is that no such legislation was passed. To my shame, this rule is a result of the heavy influence of the Catholic church in Ireland. The Catholic church is very zero tolerance when it comes to abortion. Apparently the reasoning goes like this: if you actively remove or dismantle a fetus you kill it directly which counts as murder. Even if it was dying already and taking mom along too, you must at all cost avoid the primary action that causes fetal death. This suggests that actions are to be counted in terms of whether we sin or not, whereas inaction absolves us. In this case it means failure to treat Savita (which did kill her) would not count as murdering her. I find this strange because embedded in the Catholic mass is the confiteor. When we say this we state “I confess I have sinned through my own fault…in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” This clearly calls us to be responsible for wrongs we did AND wrongs we allowed to happen. Action and inaction; I believe this is called sins of commission and omission. The stance regarding Savita should have been to save her, since through inaction doctors allowed her to die, and as I said, the baby was lost no matter what they did.

I guess I’m pretty removed from this as its happened in another country, but it upset me enough that I thought I should mention it. Maybe someone else will mention it to someone else who will mention it to someone else… Someone mentioned it to me and now I can’t shut up about it. Maybe other people still need to hear about it.

What should happen now is lots of people saying this was wrong. Like a really really lot. It sounds like a lot already are. I’m hearing plenty of pro-life views that this was incredibly stupid and sad and that Savita didn’t need to die. Then the Catholic church should condemn this type of neglect by doctors and call on Ireland to write in a legal exception for life of the mother. Then Ireland should write up the legislation. Should. I don’t really know what’s going to happen though.