SYNOPSIS:  How I ended up at a Catholic church service. And how a few chores are off my back.

It was grading day today.  I could not believe that the sun was shining; I felt cursed.  It had been raining on and off for my entire 4-day stay in Banda Aceh and on the day I had to stay home to grade (you may remember, I am teaching an online course), the sun was shining.  But as if the clouds had ears, within 1/2 hour of a sunny morning, the worst storm ever broke loose.  The flowerpots tipped, the palm trees bent and water was dripping from several skylights into Linda’s mansion and gushing onto the floors through the open windows.  Instead of the on-and-off pattern of rain of the last four days, this turned into continuing rain from morning until afternoon. 

Linda has a reliable internet connection but compared to our US standards it still is quite slow.  It took me a long time to open and close documents and if it had not been raining, I probably would have been quite grumpy.  By 3 PM I was done.  At 4PM it cleared up.  If that was not the call for another trip to town, I don’t know what else it could be!

Time to go shopping.  Aceh is known for a distinct style of embroidery.  I had to have some souvenirs.  And I needed one of those prayer outfits to complement my hijab from Iraq, my niqab from Egypt, and my burkas from Pakistan.  How you dress your females says a lot about a country.   I took one of those becaks, or tuk-tuks, stopped at the Central Market for my prayer outfit and was on my way downtown heading for the souvenir shops.  Just after we crossed the bridge, there is the Dutch church Linda had mentioned and its doors were open!  I stopped the tuk-tuk that I had only boarded a few blocks earlier and jumped out.  Lucky driver, he got full price.

A sister was preparing candles in front of the altar of St. Mary — obviously, this was a catholic church — a sign at the entrance confirmed it.  A man was testing all the microphones — obviously, these were the preparations for a service.  It was 10 minutes to 6 PM.  Except for the missing church bells — under sharia law that would be forbidden — by 6 PM about 25 worshippers had filed in.  2/3 women, 1/3 men, the full spectrum from old to young, but a lot more young people than I would have expected.

The first half of the service was led by a mother-daughter team who were seated in the front row, equipped with microphones.  It was quite an interesting idea: each member of the parish, in the order they were sitting, would say a request for a blessing, conclude with a  phrase that ended in Christos, and have the entire congregation respond with an antiphone of which I only could make out the phrase Santa Maria.  First the wave of prayer went all the way to the back of the church.  Then, a chorale was sung, accompanied by an organist on a real organ and then the wave of prayers rolled back to the front again.  If I had had just an ounce more courage, I would have participated, but instead I just watched and listened.

After that section, which nearly took 30 minutes, a green-robed priest entered and gave his blessings.  A few bible readings by various members of the congregation and a sermon followed that were interspersed with songs.  And the eucharist was performed at the end, for which the parishioners lined up in the center.

The doors of the church had remained open and much of the sermon was accompanied by the call of the muezzin and the sound of prayer from the mosque loudspeakers.  Loudspeakers are of course out of the question for any religion but Islam, but still, this side-by-side of prayers to me, was perhaps the most moving symbolism of the evening.

All the women who attended church were uncovered, many of them dressed in short-sleeved summer dresses.  Obviously, there were no repercussions for that.

People were smiling at me and I smiled back.  If I wanted, I might have been able to start a conversation with one of the parish members, but I had to choose between stores closing and conversations and my desire for some souvenirs won…, sorry.

The shopping excursion took me back to my old living quarters and the infamous Hotel 61.  From a distance, it did not look so bad.  With plenty of souvenirs in my bag, I headed back home to attempt one last dreaded task:  I had to finish an online certification for teachers.  The deadline is July 15, but the longer I push this out, the less certain I can be that I will have reliable internet when I need it, and the more it will weigh on me.  I am just not a procrastinator.  Just when the announcement for this requirement went around at school, I was in full swing of trip preparations.  No time for a 1.5-hour continuing-ed requirement.  Now this supposedly simple task turned into a 3+ hours struggle, but it’s done!    People who design webpages have no idea what opening a simple 5 minute video means at the other end of the world and under different conditions… 

Let me tell you, a big burden is off my shoulders! 

Good night.   

7 comments so far

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  1. When you get back, maybe take all your “female outfits”, have students put them on and let them act out some situations from the countries they represent. A morality play..wouldn’t that be fun!!

  2. A genius invention, the tuk-tuk! It’s a baby-size kind of a truck-truck. But a look-see reveals that there’s only three wheels — just one for each rider. Good luck luck!

  3. This brings back memories of when we were in Bethlehem at Christmas Lutheran Church and could hear the call to worship from the mosque loudspeakers near by. It was such a remarkable peaceful atmosphere. Why can’t we live in peace in spite of our differences?

  4. Thank you for your observations in the Catholic Church. See if you can find out which word they use for “God”. I have read that in Malaysia, the Catholics traditionally used the Arabic word, “Allah” for God, but the government prohibited that because it would confuse Moslems about the real nature of Allah. How is it in Aceh and the rest of Indonesia?

    • As far as I heard, it was not Allah. But so many languages are spoken here. For all I know it was not even “Indonesian” or Bahasa, but the local Acehnese, I heard.

  5. Love reading your blog,glad your tasks are done keep having fun

  6. ich wünsche dir viel sonnenschein, aber nicht zu viel hitze, weiter gute entdeckungen usw!! Mutter kommen meine kurzen grüße an?? Mutter