I’m not known for my church-going. Having atheist parents will do that to you (and make you wish you had something to rebel against). I can’t remember the last time I was in a church, but it was likely a great cathedral in England with my father. For an atheist, he loved to visit cathedrals and churches in his native land, regarding them as part of his heritage and history. He also had an amazing ability to sing hymns without hymn books, since his school days started with hymns as mine did with the Pledge of Allegiance. Do kids still do that*?
I will, however, remember my most recent visit to a religious establishment.
One of the receptionists invited me to her baby’s baptism at St. Anthony’s in Mendocino. It is the oldest parish in the county, and the church is small, but charming:
I expected that the ceremony would be part of a Mass on Sunday, but unsurprisingly for one uneducated in the ways of organized religion, I was wrong about this. The baptism was held on a Saturday, in a stand-alone event.
I arrived a few minutes before the appointed hour, and was bemused to note that I seemed to be the only one there. I peeked into the church, and it was empty, as was the hall. I texted my boss, who was also invited, and she confirmed the place and time and added that she was on her way.
Eventually people started showing up, including the guest of honor in a long white dress and fetching bonnet. We took our places in the pews, where I admired the striking ocean mural behind the altar:
and the pretty stained glass windows:
The family of the baby to be baptized was also at the altar in all their finery, but the godparents were nowhere to be seen. The priest called out, “Where are the godparents?” When he got no response, he stormed down the aisle, robes flapping, fuming, “I’ll find them myself!”
He did, and the tone was set for the ceremony. He raced through it, not allowing anyone to answer presumably important questions like “Do you reject Satan?” before barreling on to the next rhetorical question. It was the same with the “pray for us” call and response with the audience. It was like the whole thing was choreographed by the Ramones.
At the end of the ceremony, he vanished out a side door, never to be seen again. I didn’t realize it was over at first.
I expected him to thank us for witnessing such a momentous occasion, and possibly shake our hands on the way out the door, but he was off to be grumpy somewhere else.
All in all, it was not the beautiful, spiritual event I had expected. But it was memorable.
A YEAR AGO: I was in beautiful Monterey, enjoying the Aquarium, the warmth, and the sandy beaches.
FIVE YEARS AGO: A ceremony of a different kind: a surprise wedding!
*My knowledge of kids and what they do is almost as extensive as my knowledge about churches and what people do in them. I realized recently that none of the people I still keep in touch with from high school have kids, and with delightful exceptions like Erica, most of my friends don’t, either. Hmmm…