|544: Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, Port-au-Prince, Haiti|
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Mystery Worshipper: Zandolit.
The church: Cathédrale Sainte Trinité, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Denomination: Eglise Episcopale d'Haïti.
The building: Built in the early 1920s, it is a somewhat uninteresting building from the outside, paling in comparison to the imposing pink and white Roman Catholic cathedral around the corner. Inside, there are some remarkable murals behind the altar and in the transepts with scenes from the life of Jesus. These were completed in the early 1950s, and were part of the renaissance of Haitian art. Many of the scenes are set in contemporary Haitian villages, and include some bewildering images and symbols, at least to my non-Haitian eyes. Next door is a church school with a very nice gift shop, and behind is a convent.
The church: My impression is of a wealthy and well-educated congregation a big change from what you find in smaller rural churches.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in downtown Port-au-Prince, which is always an interesting area. It's about halfway between the Roman Catholic cathedral and the National Palace, with nearby museums, statues of national heroes, and random livestock. Not too far away is the Iron Market, where you can buy almost anything under the sun.
The cast: The bulletin listed, amongst others, the Révérand Père Burnet Cherisol as celebrant and preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Célébration Eucharistique, Quatrième Dimanche de Pâques.
How full was the building?
Pleasantly full. It wasn't bulging, but there were no empty pews either. Each row had at least five or six people in it, with probably 300 or more people in total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I rushed in during the procession, somewhat surprised that the service had started on time. I think I took the greeter off guard by snagging a bulletin and scurrying off to a pew, thus never giving him a chance to even try to welcome me. I was warmly greeted during the Peace by the people near me and was loaned a prayer book by the fellow in the pew behind.
Was your pew comfortable?
No complaints. They were average wooden pews with no kneelers. I have been in some rural churches in Haiti where it seems like the pews are specifically designed to cause great pain and discomfort, so the lack of torture benches was a pleasant surprise.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Missed it. I was late because I was on a fruitless search for a bathroom. To my great relief, I finally found one after the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Nous allons chanter le Hymne 202 'Le cri de mon âme s'élève vers toi'" ("We will sing Hymn 202 'The cry of my soul rises toward you'").
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The bulletin included the words for all the hymns and songs. No books were provided people brought their own "Livre de la Prière Commune" (BCP in French) and Bibles in either French or Creole. The bulletin had mysterious references to hymn numbers, so someone somewhere must have some sort of a hymn book, but I never saw any evidence of one.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The occasional whiff of diesel exhaust from outside; the traffic noise (there are no laws about mufflers in Haiti); and just before going up to communion, the guy who gave me a tour of the building the previous day sat next to me and started talking. He was quite distracting and somewhat annoying for the rest of the service. Trying to figure out what in the world was going on in some of the murals also diverted a great deal of my attention.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard high church Anglicanism with bells and smells. It was solemn, but not in a "going-through-the-motions" kind of way. I enjoyed it.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 I may have ranked him higher if I could actually have heard most of what he was saying. The PA system didn't work very well and there was a lot of noise from the blowing fans and the traffic outside, which meant I couldn't catch much of the sermon. The bits I could make out were all very engaging, and he was very expressive and emphatic.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christ the Shepherd. Again, I missed a lot of it, and I have a tendency to zone out when I listen to sermons in a language other than my own. The sermon was in Creole when up to this point the service had all been in French. The preacher spent some time explaining the readings and paraphrasing them in Creole. He also used examples from day-to-day Haitian life about Jesus as our shepherd, which means that not only will Jesus seek us when we are lost, but also that we have to follow him no matter where he leads us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not being stared at! I suppose with this being an urban cathedral, they are accustomed to foreigners and ex-pats, and another white person was not a big deal. Worshiping with brothers and sisters in another language and another culture but knowing that we shared the same God was also heavenly (and a fortaste of the future perhaps).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Downtown Port-au-Prince need I say more? It's about as close to ...er...the other place as anywhere I've ever been. In addition, I was disappointed by how much of the service was in French rather than Creole. Upon further reflection, and based on my experience in a more rural church, I decided that that was OK it being so urban, most of the people there were probably fluent in French. But still... it's not a language that most people in Haiti would really understand.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The persistant fellow who took me on a tour of the grounds the previous day introduced me to all the clergy, including the Bishop. I chatted with the Bishop about what I was doing in the country and where else I had visited. Afterwards, the same chap showed me where I had to stand to wait for a bus and what hand signal to use to flag down the right one.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 Living in downtown Port-Au-Prince? Are you kidding? The air pollution alone would probably take about 18 years off of my life. Besides, I would rather attend a smaller, non-cathedral church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The annoying but friendly man who showed me around. I had given him some money the day before he said it would go to the church school, and that the church would send me some postcards as a thank-you. I decided to take a chance and trust him. I'll be pleasantly surprised if they actually arrive.