17 July 2008

Three Sundays, three meetings

We were in Maine for the last two Sundays before we left the USA for Russia. On the first Sunday, we worshipped with Portland Friends at their summer worship hour, 5 p.m. On the second Sunday, we expected a visitor at 5 p.m., so we had to find a morning worship opportunity, and so we went to the Vineyard church.

Outwardly, it would be hard to find two more different congregations in nonliturgical Protestantism, but underneath maybe there were more similarities than differences. The Friends meeting was unprogrammed; three or four spoke during the meeting, separated by substantial silence. To my surprise, I was one of them; after being required to speak every Sunday for months during our visits among Northwest Yearly Meeting churches, I was looking forward very much to being completely anonymous. But when a previous person spoke on community, I could not help but describe our experience of community at Metolius Friends in Oregon, one of the most amazing of our spring visits.

This was my first visit back to Portland (Maine) Friends in about ten years, but it felt very familiar. It is impossible and wrong to make generalizations from one Sunday, but their noticeable tendency to talk tentatively and indirectly about spiritual matters is not unusual in so-called liberal meetings; it doesn't mean the reality isn't there! When in such meetings, I often have a slight twinge of anxiety that I'll be categorized as one of those "other" Friends, the ones who often have pastors, and who quaintly insist on talking about Jesus and the Bible. (Having been head of the Friends United Meeting staff can add to that anxiety!) In fact, of course, we received a warm welcome, even from those who didn't realize at first that Judy's mother is buried in the little cemetery behind the meetinghouse.

We went to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship on the following Sunday morning. People arrived with coffee and milled around cheerfully in the front area of the utilitarian multipurpose structure, and in the seating area further back. We were warmly greeted by several individuals and couples. The printed bulletins had a briefing on the back for first-time visitors, letting us know among other things that there would be a sort of social intermission halfway through the service. It went for about an hour and a half, the first half hour of which was completely music--the wonderful Vineyard music we often use at Reedwood Friends, so it felt very familiar to me. The first song was a real rocker, and the guitarist-singer led it with great energy as well as good musicianship. She was an engaging worship leader, with lots of joy but no artificial piety; I felt she would be equally engaging as a rock band leader in a secular setting. (Now THAT would be evangelism!) Each succeeding song was quieter, and the last one was the most contemplative. In some Friends churches, it would have been the song that could well lead into open worship.

This was the July 4 Independence Day weekend, and I know that many evangelical churches in the USA mix patriotism with the usual Sunday fare. I had wondered what it would be like at the Vineyard church, but I can report with some surprise (and relief) that civil religion did not creep in at all. If there were any references to patriotism, they were so appropriate that they did not hook me. What was far more prominent was a sense of the Christian family's global character, with references to congregational relationships in Spain and Latin America.

Two of the Vineyard movement's founders, John and Carol Wimber, brought Quaker influences into the movement, so it's not surprising that (except for the communion), I almost felt like I was back in Northwest Yearly Meeting. The energy, informality, mutual affection, simplicity, and directness reminded me particularly of Tigard Community Friends. And it's that mutual affection that was also the link with our Portland Friends experience of the previous week. In both places, we were conscious of people bringing their needs to the community for prayer and help. Both congregations included people dealing with major challenges and threats, and I was glad that their faith communities were safe places to bring those serious concerns. The Vineyard bulletin even listed people who were battling depression, something that "good" evangelicals surely don't suffer from!? Both congregations had a gracious ability to combine informality and reverence, surely (though of course not exclusively) a Quaker trait.

This past Sunday we worshiped with Moscow Friends Meeting. I was tempted to say mischievously "with Moscow Friend Meeting" because for the first fifty minutes of the meeting, there was only one regular member of the meeting present. He and Judy and I made up the congregation for most of the hour, along with one visitor who'd never been before and who left fifty minutes in, just as another regular attender arrived. As I said before, don't generalize from just one Sunday; I've been to Moscow meeting many times over the years, and this was definitely unusual!

Buying cucumbers at the outdoor market.
Tevosyan Square, Sovremennik movie theater.
Courtyard concert; who is the musician?
In the "It's wonderful to be back" department: The nearby Meridian shopping center, with its grocery store, coffee shop, bookstore, cellphone stores, fitness center, household appliances store, video store, etc., must be the place to be! Within two days I was greeted warmly there by three young people who know me from the Institute. And we had a wonderful experience in the grocery store, of all places: a cleaning woman noticed Judy admiring her mop (a special floor-cleaning cloth wrapped around the mop frame at the end of the handle--very simple and effective) and immediately introduced herself and wanted to know who we were. She hugged Judy with the spontaneous warmth that I associate with Russian people, and that is such a contrast with the stereotypes that sometimes prevail in the USA.

Another unexpected moment: When we returned from Moscow on Sunday evening, we walked into the courtyard our building shares with two others, and right away we heard the sounds of amplified guitar music. A singer/guitarist was performing one of my favorite Konstantin Nikolsky songs--and performing it very well. His whole repertoire was varied and wonderful, with several items of topical humor, and no dumb bouncy pop songs. His audience was gathered on the benches and playground equipment in the courtyard. We sat in the background and tried not to be obvious as we took a couple of photos and a brief video clip, which I am linking here in the hope that someone reading this blog knows who it is. (We had to go before the concert ended, but I'd love to hear him again!)

Righteous links: None this time. I've barely been able to take the time to get online, never mind look for juicy sites. It's been interesting rejiggering our computers to connect to the Internet through flex.ru, a service that logs in and bills its subscribers using a building-wide VPN network. It took me a long time to convince Windows Vista that it was possible to log into a VPN as part of getting onto the Internet; it kept insisting that I had to be on the Internet first before even setting up access to the VPN. Somehow I managed to convince Vista, but don't ask me what I did. It was sheer trial and error. As for Ubuntu Linux, I still don't know how to log on. I see that there are VPN clients for Linux, but I can't get online to grab and try them.

But nothing in cyberspace is higher priority than access to good music. So I do have some dessert to offer: Eddie Boyd performing his classic "Five Long Years."

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