At the 2013 conference of the Hymn Society of the US and Canada this summer there was a panel of Protestant worship leaders, moderated by Anthony Ruff, OSB, on the effects of the Second Vatican Council on all the churches. In his remarks, Dr. Michael Hawn, Fellow of the Hymn Society, told the following touching story.
I was taking a group of primarily Methodist students to the border region of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, for an immersion in Mexican spirituality in Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations.
In the Valley, Latinos/as are in the majority and Spanish is the dominant language. In addition to liturgies, we visited places of popular piety. Among the parishes we visited was a humble congregation in one of the small towns in the area. A deacon from the congregation had taken us to the nearby sacred sites during the afternoon.
We concluded the day with Saturday evening Mass. The tall mestizo priest was expecting us and welcomed us graciously, as did the fifty or so members assembled for Mass. He spoke little English, but my Spanish was sufficient to get us through the evening. Even with the minimal Spanish among the students, the welcome was evident through the non-verbal signs of hospitality that greeted our Methodist band of about twelve students.
As we were preparing for Mass, he asked if there were students who would bring the elements forward in procession for the Eucharist. He also asked if someone would read the Gospel in English for those present who needed this. The lesson for the sermon was from Isaiah 6 – with the priest focusing his homily as much on the seminary students as on the congregation in his application of that passage.
I had cautioned the students to not presume to take the Eucharist, but to approach those serving for a blessing. However, it became apparent following the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer) that we were indeed being invited to partake in the eucharistic elements themselves.
At the conclusion of the service, the priest invited the assembly to surround our little group of Methodists, hold hands, and offered a blessing on us and our travel. This was one of the most proleptic experiences of the Church Universal that I have ever experience – the Church as we hope it will become.
In our discussion that followed, we acknowledged that it would be unlikely to experience such profound openness in one of our Methodist congregations. Since many in the parish were first-generation immigrants to the USA, we had the profound experience of being welcomed to the liturgy by persons who were guests in our country, and unexpectedly, but gratefully, to the table by another Christian tradition.
C. Michael Hawn is Professor of Church Music and Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.