I had begun to find attending church painful, and I often still do, with many glimmers of hope, days when my ignoring muscles are strong enough to take the extra weight of church, great talks, and great teachers and experiences.
Yet the blatant gender discrimination, eurocentric race favoritism, and fear of wearing so much as a pantsuit to church had begun to wear on me ( and still does.)
It was Thursday, with Easter only three days ahead. I spent the morning doing a wreck dive of the HMNZS Canterbury and a local reef. My hair was tangled and wild. I wore jeans and a loose tee-shirt over my swimwear and stared at the beautiful little chapel. The sun had begun to set, and the beach was directly behind me. I could hear both the waves to my back and the organ ahead.
The bells chimed and beginning of the Maundy Thursday mass. I was nervous. I looked aweful, with red-rimmed eyes, dirty tangled hair but I thought, I’d try, I’d ask if maybe I could stand quietly in the back, where no one could see me. Maybe they would allow dreadfully dressed non-Anglican tourist just a peek at their worship. I was practically shaking as I approached the well dressed woman handing out programs at the door.
“Can I…..I know I’m terribly underdressed…I…”
“Please.”, she said warmly, not even seeming to see my clothes. “Please come in” She took my hand, smiled and handed me a program.
I was shocked. In Mormondom I would feel unbelievably nervous in a tailored pantsuit. Here I stood, in as awful a state as I’d ever been, in a gorgeous chapel. I looked up at the gorgeous stained-glass at the front of the chapel. There was depicted a dark Maori Jesus, surrounded by fellow native angels, complete with sacred pounamu around their necks, who blew into conch shells to trumpet his arrival. Out of his hands flowed power, depicted by Maori native patterns which flowed out over native trees and birds.
In the front stood three priests. They were all women. They wore white robes with white stoles embroidered in gold. They were beautiful, and all at least in their 50’s. I wondered if they had any idea that worlds away, in my home religion, little 5 year-old girls were being told they could not have the priesthood. I wonder what they would say. Actually, they would probably just tell them to become Anglican.
The priest(esses) blessed the holy sacrament, and as they did I thought of how much more fitting it was that they should be speaking of nourishing us with blood and broken bodies, the way our own Mothers do. I thought of the Heavenly Mother. I wept with the meaning of the sacrament and Christ, but I did not partake.
Then the women spoke about Jesus and the washing of the feet, read directly from scripture and allowed the congregants to interpret the scripture as they saw fit in their own minds.
And as the woman in the beautiful robes knelt, I, with dirty hiking feet, in a dirty tee-shirt and jeans, who hadn’t even partaken in that evening’s Eucharist, stepped forward, and that woman washed my feet.