17 August 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Peace be with you

When visiting new destinations, some people enjoy visiting bars or restaurants. I like going to church services.

There was one service I particularly remember, in the poor fishing village of Kassiesbaai, near Arniston on the southern Cape coast.

My husband Chris and I sat at the back of the simple building, which was soon quite full.

At ten exactly, with an air of great ceremony, the priests (2 men and a woman) walked in, led by the altar girls bearing crosses, candles, the holy communion wafers and a small bell.

It was Holy Eucharist, and Father Eli Murtz led the service. His message revolved around a reading about the Good Samaritan, about having a good look at who really was our neighbour. He also talked about how he had visited Pollsmoor prison, and seen how many people there were in desperate need of someone to listen to them, just to visit them.

We prayed for the community, and the priests asked the parishioners to remember Americans suffering in hurricanes in their prayers.

There was a slow build up to the drama of the Holy Communion. Readings were made, the priest surrounded by altar girls who held up the Bible, lit it with candles, and held high a cross.

The incense was lit, and swung back and forth. The priests gathered round the small altar. A woman holding up the book from which Father Eli read rested her hand over her heart.

The spiritual tension kept building. The community had now completely forgotten about us, and was entirely focused on the scene before them. There was a hushed reverence. The church was now wreathed in incense and lit with candles and fervent, tangible prayer.

The people gave the moment their full attention, and breathed holiness into it. Everyone was uplifted at the moment Father Eli held up the Host, and one of the altar girls rang a bell.

The singing after that was pure joy. Everyone sang freely for the happiness that comes from singing together.

Then the moment of fellowship. Everyone around us reached out to shake our hands, and we smiled shyly at one another. Peace. Peace. Peace be with you.

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