Being on holiday with the extended family is already a lot to be grateful for. Being on holiday with family in Perth at the beginning of the Australian summer is like having Santa come early. The view of the Swan River from our balcony made every day seem like a gift under the Christmas tree waiting to be unwrapped. The pink ribbons of light at dawn always unfurled into a beautiful sunrise, uncovering warm days filled with sweet smelling Oleander before finally bursting into fiery orange sunsets to close the day. Simply beautiful.
On the third day of my holiday I spotted a sign outside a church announcing there was Sunday service there at 11 am. St Andrew's church sat at the corner of the street where we lived.
When Sunday rolled around, there were less than 30 of us in the small hall. My fourteen year old and I stood out among the little group of silver haired Australian worshippers -- being Asian and quite a bit younger than the rest. We had expected that mass would be held in the red brick church next door but a sign led us around the back and up the old staircase to this meeting room, half the size of Holy Family's parish canteen. The church was undergoing repairs.
We were greeted by various individuals each extending a warm hand of welcome, each curious to find out where we had come from, and each inviting us to stay for coffee and fellowship after service. From the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of coffee cups set on a long table in the other room. Amidst them were three plates heaped with cake and biscuits. Simple fare. Simply welcoming.
After we took our seats, a small woman with large glasses stood up to welcome everyone. Bright and bubbly, she informed us that Mrs So-and-so (I forget the name ) was recovering quite well; that the Mayor's wife had mentioned putting up a slide outside the church the following week ( I think as part of Christmas celebrations) that may block their entrance and that there were two Singaporeans at mass that day and to please make them feel welcome. She then thanked God for the presence of the two priests who were there to say mass that morning.
Mass started promptly with a hymn. No pomp nor ceremony, just a white haired lady playing the organ and a congregation of feeble yet fervent voices praising God through song. Father, who I think would have been over 80, led with the opening prayer. There was no script, no mass book, no bulletin to follow. Just his deliberate, though sometimes tremulous voice communicating words on a page that I believed he had written himself. Except for his voice, the room was silent. But the quiet reverence was palpable, speaking loudly to me, like thunder bolts to my heart.
I wept throughout mass.
I'm not sure why.
I remember certain words from a hymn, the silhouette of an old man bent over in prayer, the basket of bread that was shared at communion. I recall parts of the homily, urging all to remember that the season of giving did not start and end at Christmas and not to forget a Christian's role in ending poverty. I don't remember everything except that my heart was broken and ecstatic all at once.
Throughout the mass and the unexpected wash of tears, a small hand clasped mine - unquestioning, all-knowing -- teenaged daughter turned adult. We discussed our experience at the little church on our walk home, and how its simplicity and reverence for God's sacred space touched us each differently but deeply.
Thinking back on that morning I was reminded how simplicity enveloped some of the most powerful moments in the bible with Jesus - a donkey for a chariot, an upper room to break bread, unschooled fishermen for friends. But reverence had sanctified each experience and made them extraordinary.
Christmas had come early for me. I have much to be grateful for - family time, the beauty of Perth and of course my experience at the little church. Now I know that when I am at mass in our own parish at Holy Family and witness parents letting their children talk through service or whole families playing games on their phones while exchanging scores unabashedly, I will let my mind wander to a simple room on the corner of a street in Perth, where a small group of men and women would be having their own quiet conversations with God.
I will let my heart be warmed by the knowledge that in that sacred space, God would be conversing intimately with each of them, just as He had with me.