I went and checked out a new spiritual community this afternoon. I was scheduled to be up island at a family Thanksgiving dinner, but I reluctantly bowed out due to feeling a bit under the weather lately. But when I was reminded on Facebook that this new community is gathering Sunday afternoons now for an hour, and that my friend the Venerable Alastair McCollum was asked to preside there today, I thought what the heck I’ll check it out.
The Abbey, that is founded by the Emmaus community. “A new monastic, intentional Christian community based in the Fernwood / Oaklands neighbourhoods of Victoria. The Abbey is a ministry of the Emmaus Community.” They’re a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of BC, and from what I gather are also cosponsored through the local United Church. Their “heritage” is Anglican, the Rev. Meagan Crosby-Shearer that leads the Abbey is an Anglican Deacon. But they are themselves ecumenical/multi denominational.
Its impossible to get the full feel for any community after just one exposure, especially a community that is just starting out! The Neo-Monastic community, Emmaus itself, has been going for a little while now. But this was only the Abbeys second Sunday! However, I was both surprised by the vibe there and impressed. I was expecting more of a formal Anglican liturgical feel to it, even though I knew they considered themselves ecumenical, simply because of the fact the Rev. is a transitional deacon within the local diocese and a deacon at St Barnabas Church, a local Anglo-Catholic parish. Which would have been just fine with me, as I find I really rather like ritual, ceremony and formality. Something I grew to appreciate through my involvement with and practice of Zen Buddhism. The Abbey was not exactly what I expected though. Being Thanksgiving it was a bit more upbeat, if that’s the right word to use, than last week was from what I gather, and they really wanted to have a feel of gratitude to the whole service. And it certainly did!
For one thing, the fact that the Abbey rents a small community theatre space in Fernwood helps add to the relaxed feel of the atmosphere. They also had Bob Marley playing as people came in. Never seen that in a church before. It was definitely a groovy vibe. Children are given more or less freedom to move around and play throughout the service. On the small stage behind everything, they had play-dough festively scented as pumpkin and apple spice for the kids to play with, or anyone really for that matter, they pointed out that the space was there for anyone to go hangout on at any point during the service. One of the first “hymns” sung was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, kind of dug that too. It was mostly singing, and today at least, was very contemporary and upbeat music.
Sticking to the theme of gratitude, after Alastair had given his Thanksgiving homily, there was a a large sheet of paper pulled out on the floor and an opportunity for those that wanted to draw something, or write something related to gratitude. A nice gesture and helped bring a group activity to the service. Well, really the whole thing *is* a group activity. But a different than typical group activity.
The Eucharist was a bit more traditional, but with a twist. Instead of what I’ve typically seen, of the those present going forward to the alter to receive it. The bread and wine was simply passed down the rows among the congregants. Which was fine…the only part of the whole thing that felt all that awkward was the Lords Prayer …”Our Father…” it was spoken as a group, but in the language and translation of the individuals choosing. That felt..to me..a bit awkward and confusing. I was saying one version, but in my ears hearing another, which was throwing me off. Maybe the others preferred that fee style prayer?
On the whole, it was a very cool, welcoming and groovy kind of environment. But more importantly, it didn’t feel like it was trying to be hip at the expense of authenticity. It had a very authentic and sincere vibe. Just not what I personally expected. And that I think was good. I have a thing, as I said, for tradition, ritual and ceremony. But that can at times feel “stuffy”, and variety is good. And The Abbey is a very interesting and very good blend of the old with the new. Tradition and authenticity with a contemporary and relaxed environment. Its just getting started. But I’d recommend those looking for such a vibe to check them out.