"I've been to some places that consider themselves liberal and accepting," said one congregant at St. John the Beloved. Those qualities were important to him because he was both gay and divorced. "But for them, 'liberal and accepting' meant the priest was in a Hawaiian shirt and there was dancing on the altar." Not here. Here, the theology would allow for both gay and female clergy, but there would be no priests in Hawaiian shirts. The setting was humble: a small, octagonal chapel at University Christian Church ("examples of true, radical hospitality," said Rector Thomas Beckman). Two small stained-glass windows, depicting what might have been smoke and flame, joined a cross, a midcentury portrait of Jesus, and a Monet landscape as the room's principal adornment. But other elements seemed more ornate and more typically (even traditionally) Catholic. The embroidered trim on the altar cloth, matching both the tapestry surrounding the cross on the wall and the detail work on Father Martin de Porres Griffin's vestments. Two pots of Easter lilies, placed beside two tall candlesticks before the altar. Just off to the left, a silver crucifix on a pole. A modest brass tabernacle, huddled in a corner beside a richly detailed Paschal candle. And when the acolytes entered the church during the entrance hymn, they wore black cassocks covered by white albs. "Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia/ All on earth with angels say, Alleluia."
More traditional gestures permeated the Mass: the priest slowly bowed his head when he mentioned Jesus' name in prayer. A snippet of Latin opened the Gloria, and the congregation intoned the Our Father. One congregant made the sign of the cross at the phrase "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" in the Sanctus, another knelt at the elevation of the Eucharist. In general, Griffin's words and motions seemed careful and deliberate -- not formal to the point of seeming mannered, but not casual, or even ordinary.
Still, it wasn't all old-school Catholicism. Of necessity, piano took the place of an organ, and the arrangements for the liturgical music had a modern, folksy feel. The sign of peace enjoyed a privileged status: nearly everybody wished the peace of Christ to nearly everybody else, often through an embrace instead of the more typical handshake. And there were two noticeable variations from standard Catholic liturgy: "For us and our salvation" replaced "For us men and our salvation" in the Creed, and the Eucharistic prayer did not include a prayer for the pope.
The Gospel told the story of Jesus visiting the disciples after His resurrection, appearing in their midst even though "the doors were locked," and saying "Peace be with you." In his homily, Griffin said, "Many times, the doors of our hearts are locked, but Jesus enters anyway, and He says, 'Peace be with you.' He breathed on them His holy spirit, and...there is safety in that place. The disciples feel safe in the care and the presence of Jesus."
Except for Thomas. "We hear about Thomas not being present in the community when Jesus came the first time; Thomas saying, 'I won't believe unless I can physically see and touch my Savior.' How often am I in that place, saying, 'Lord, you can do these things, but I don't truly believe in my heart. I need to see.' What would have helped Thomas in that situation is the community.... Faith is centered in every one of our hearts, but we need others to help us see, to help us believe.... As Christians who believe in the resurrection of Christ, but who have not seen, we are called to continue to see Christ each day, to receive His peace and bring that peace to others, that they may believe. These are all signs that Christ is truly present and active in our world."
During the intercessory prayers, the acolyte prayed "that the Church's life in Christ continue to invite nonbelievers to come to belief."
At the end of Mass, Rector Beckman, recently released from the hospital, took a moment to address the congregation. "I wanted to tell you...what a great deal this community has meant to me in my healing process, how very much I love you and how very much I believe in the work that we are doing. This gathering is a testimony to the living love that proceeds from God."
Just before the final blessing, Griffin mentioned that the church was selling polo shirts sporting the diocesan emblem. One congregant leaned over and murmured a joke to his neighbor: "Do any of them come with Roman collars?"
What happens when we die?
"We'll reach that place of glory," said Griffin, "and Jesus will -- as in the Gospel today -- He'll say, 'Peace be with you. Welcome to the place I have prepared for you.'"
Denomination: The Catholic Church of America
Founded locally: July 2006
Senior pastor: Thomas Beckman
Congregation size: 25
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: not yet
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: about $100
Singles program: no
Diversity: majority Caucasian, some African American and Pacific Islander
Sunday worship: 11:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour