Showing posts with label English-language churches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English-language churches. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve in Istanbul, Turkey

Singing "Silent Night"
a candlelight Christmas Eve Tradition
all around the world
There were also beautiful soprano and alto solos
and a jazzy saxaphone
Last night I went to the candlelight services of Union Church in Istanbul. It's the oldest Protestant congregation in the city and has been meeting in the cozy Dutch chapel attached to the Dutch consulate on Istiklal Caddessi since 1857. There are as many as 20 nationalities there on any given Sunday: Americans, Brits, South Africans, Netherlanders, Madagascarans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Congolese, Germans, Russians, Slovaks, Moldovans, Australians, just to name a few countries that achieve critical mass in the congregation.

This was an English-language service, although there are also services in Chinese, Turkish and English bilingual services, and another service for the East African community.

Tourists come from all over the world and find weekly services there via the Internet or via the little sign out on Istiklal Caddesi inviting people to English-language church. One week I enjoyed meeting Coptic Christians from Egypt and the next week it was the director of the Fallingwater architectural site in Pennsylvania. It's so interesting to see the variety of people who seek out the church while in Istanbul.

I remember the first Christmas Eve service I celebrated here. The mayor of the Beyoglu neighborhood where the church is located sent plants to all of the churches. I was stunned by how much that signal of acceptance meant to me in a 99% Muslim culture. It made me realize how much just a smile and acknowledgement of someone's right to exist can make to someone who is completely different than me and outnumbered culturally. It is a really, really healthy experience to feel what it feels like to be a minority. 

A particular local gem of candlelight services last night was "The Lord's Prayer" sung in Turkish with Turkish music and rythms. I found it incredibly haunting and powerful. We also sang favorite English-language hymns that would be recognized around the world.

Merry Christmas to all.
Peace and good will to all human kind and our planet.

You may enjoy these other posts from expat Christmases past:

A Neighborhood Christmas

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

Come Join Us for Coffee

Photos courtesy of Pastor Benjamin van Rensburg of Union Church of Istanbul

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Restoration of Order" has begun in Iran

My English-language church in Prague, St. Clements Church on Klimentska, held this incredibly educational series of program on "what it was like to be a Czech Christian under communism." Wow, was that an eye-opening series of programs. Everyone who went was on the edge of their seats listening to our distinguished dissident speakers.

Our last speaker in the series was an expert on Czech church history and I asked him if it was possible to create a list of "dos and don'ts to share with future congregations on how not to get co-opted by repressive regimes." There was a general chuckle at my naivete because this sort of thing is not preventable. Each generation has to learn for themselves. We've all heard the phrase "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it," right? Well at this session I learned the phrase, "what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."

Want some evidence of that (with apologies for sounding so dark, so Czech!)? This article, linked to in my blog post title, shows that the "restoration of order" has begun in Iran. Even the phrase that this young woman uses to describe the regime's actions is the same in English as it was back then in post-1968 Czechoslovakia.

What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding a Church Home in Prague: St. Clement's Church

I was taking a look-see around my new neighborhood and noticed a lovely church that I wanted to see up close. The nameplate said St. Clement's Church, with services in Czech, but also, Anglican services in English at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. I already knew my own denomination wasn't represented in Prague. How fantastic it would be to walk to church! I had to try it out.

A couple weeks ago, I went into this beautiful old church and was warmly received by the congregants. The church bells were pealing with enthusiasm calling the neighborhood to worship. It was a cold morning, and my hands were already cold from a morning walk around the neighborhood. They didn't warm up during the service! I discovered later that each seat has it's own individual heater and you just dial up what you need.

The building is thought to have been the site of Christian worship for the last 1,000 years. I haven't heard a date for how old the building is, but the frescos in the apse date from the 14th century. During the Enlightenment, the church was used as a granary, which doesn't sound all that enlightened, does it? It was restored in 1894-1896 to it's present Neo-Gothic style.

Later that night, I went back for St. Clement's Lessons and Carols. Episcopalian friends had always told me how beautiful "Lessons and Carols" are at Christmas time. This was my first time experiencing this Christmas tradition for myself.

Numerous children started the evening off with a fun version of "The Little Drummer Boy" complete with a march down the aisle, plenty of coffee cans, and various drumming instruments to clang away to their heart's content. To hear the congregation booming out those carols in this beautiful ancient building was a wonderful moment, one where I could really feel the Christmas spirit.

There were probably about 100 parishioners. We went down the street for mulled wine, treats, and conversation afterwards and I could tell there wouldn't be anymore church shopping for me. Everyone was just too welcoming. I felt at home.

Expat churches are different than regular churches. A lady told me that the previous rector had been in charge for seven years and had never once done a funeral because expats always go home when they reach that age. So there is also not the usual contingent of "little old ladies" that make up most churches back home. Not that there's anything wrong with little old ladies.

She also asked me if I noticed how male the voices were when we sang. English-speaking men, married to Czech women, often come to church solo because Czechs are atheists, thanks to communism, and don't participate in church as a family. So the guys come by themselves for worship and to enjoy an English-speaking environment for awhile.

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