The mid-day sun filtered through the leaves and rested on top of the van as we wound our way down Sand Lick road. Hand-me-down skirt clad and hair twisted into a braid, I was headed to Sunday Mass at St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s is a small church on the outskirts of McKee that was started by Father Beiting (CAP’s founder) himself. It stands inconspicuously next to the road and is a church and a meeting hall all rolled into one little building.
In many ways it is similar to Good Shepherd, the church that was closest to me in McCreary County. They are both decidedly casual churches. Whenever I describe Good Shepherd church to anyone, I always tell them the story of the day that the lady got up and started squishing bugs in the middle of the service, at which point the pastor stopped and said “Must you squish bugs during my homily?”
That’s why it was so funny when I visited McCreary and Good Shepherd this past fall. There was a new pastor, but the church was still its same ol’ converted garage self. And in the middle of the service, it happened again! A lady in the front of the church started squashing bugs and the pastor stopped his homily to tell her that she did not need to squish the bugs because the birds would eat them. The heads of my church-going companions all turned down the row and smiled at me knowingly. What were the chances that the bug-squishing episode would have happened for a second time right at the weekend when I happened to be there? Life is a funny thing.
St. Paul’s, while having the advantage of being in an actual church instead of a garage, has the same very casual feel to it. In fact, a lot of my fellow Catholics don’t like to go there because of it. Mass is supposed to start at 11:45, but it’s not unusual for it to start at 12. The little kids play with toys in the sitting area directly behind the chapel during Mass. There is no one to do the music, so the only music during the Mass consists of one song – the first verse of which is used for the processional and the second verse of which is used for the recessional. There are no strong singers in the congregation, so the verses are stumbled through with hesitant off-key voices. People will get up during Mass to go back into the kitchen and check the food that is cooking for the lunch that is to be served directly after church.
When I first came to Kentucky, I didn’t like this casual type of church. In fact, in McCreary, I chose to drive to a church that was farther away to avoid it. But, here, now that I am more acquainted with Kentucky and its ways, I felt myself wanting to attend this casual little church.
Yeah, I feel really awkward there. Everybody knows everybody and I definitely feel like the outsider. I didn’t even eat the lunch with them at first because I felt so out of place. But one day one of the ladies of the church invited me to join them, so I did. And yes, I do like things to be punctual, but there is something endearing about a church that will wait to start because they know that a certain person is running late. And I’ve come to accept this casual manner as a part of the Kentucky life. It’s a cultural experience.
I explained the character of this little church to Ruth as I drove to St. Paul’s on this sunny Sunday. As we pulled into the parking lot, white balloons tied to the step railings announced that this was a special day. Two of the young folks were going to have their first communion!
We popped our legs out of the van, climbed the steps, and walked into the church. The usual t-shirt and jean wearing congregants had put on their best for this special occasion. Several extra family members, hands itching for their cameras at their sides, were present.
As the Mass opened with the two first communicants coming down the aisle, I started to feel the joy of this special occasion. One, an energetic little girl with veiled brown hair and white dress; the other, a more subdued little boy with a button-up shirt color coded to match the outfits of his family members sitting in the front pew.
For this special occasion, a couple of musical folks had come from St. Paul’s sister parish in Berea to play the music. So the usually quiet church echoed with the sounds of joyful voices and a carefully strummed guitar.
A camera man, apparently, had also come for this special occasion. A large man with three cameras hanging around his neck to choose from, he positioned himself in a side aisle and snapped pictures all through the Mass.
And then came the reading. The readings are often one of my favorite parts of the Mass at St. Paul’s because they are usually read by a little boy with a clear reading voice and a wonderfully Kentuckian southern accent.
And then, of course, that all important moment, when the little boy and girl came forward to partake of the Eucharist for the first time.
It was a very special, sweet little occasion for the church, and I was glad to be there.
I was, of course, even more glad when I went to lunch, where I had (holy cow pies!) three different desserts. Why three? Well, I couldn’t not have chocolate. So I had to have a brownie. And the cupcakes looked really tasty and cute. So I had to have a cupcake. And I had planned for that to be it. But then, they started cutting into the cakes (yes, plural). And one of the cakes was an ice cream cake. And I couldn’t NOT have ice cream cake. So I had some ice cream cake. Mmmmmmmm. You know life is good when you get to eat three desserts in one day.
Yeah, St. Paul’s can be awkward and aggravatingly casual sometimes. Kind of like when I was walking back from communion and three-camera -guy had his camera up and pointing at my face.
But it can also be winsome and wonderfully sweet. Kind of like a little boy and girl timidly going up for their first communion, scriptures read in a youthful southern accent, and ice cream cake.