I went to church tonight. With our host family we attended Our Lady of Charity Catholic Church in Lima. It was an amazing experience.
First, I got there ahead enough of the service to ask the priest if I could take communion. By technical canonical law I can't, not being Catholic, but often the local priest has some discretionary authority in how the law is applied. As an Episcopal priest I had often gotten permission before in other Catholic churches, but one never knows. The priest was almost surprised that I asked, and (in good Anglican fashion) left the decision up to me. I had already decided, and I told him.
Second, I was surprised to see that every one of the readers was female. I knew that Vatican II had opened the way for women to participate more fully in the services of the church, but this seemed almost overkill.
Third, the choir's average age was probably 30 at best. Young people with guitars and drums led lively worship music, and the congregation sang enthusiastically.
Fourth, when it came time for communion there were three communion stations; the priest in the center aisle, a layman to the right, and a lay woman to the left. I tell you, this parish has taken inclusion of women in the Catholic worship to new heights!
Fifth, about half the congregation took communion. I had been accustomed to very low rates of communion in the Catholic church, a hang-over from Vatican I strictures. Here, on the other hand, one would almost have thought oneself to be in a traditional Episcopal service!
And finally, at the door of the church an elderly priest in a long black cassock handed out candy and cookies from a large grocery bag to all the kids, the great dispenser of happiness among the children. He did so with an open and happy face, obviously enjoying his job. I had told him who I was ahead of time, and he repeatedly gave me a side-to-side hug of welcome.
One theme stood out unmistakenly: they throw the door open to anyone and everyone. Men, women, children, old, young, locals and strangers--even Episcopalians, all were welcome, and as many as possible were offered a share in active, public participation in the worship experience. Talk about spiritual hospitality, they do it in spades!
Just the theme of my Sabbatical study, and in a totally unexpected place!