01 November 2010

St. Stephen Martyr Church

After an exhausting Saturday at Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," I felt like staying close to home for church on Sunday. I decided to go to St. Stephen the Martyr Church, located very close to the GW campus. I've been there many times already for Masses held by the GW Newman Center, but I've never written about it, and I was curious to see what their 1:00 PM "Filipino community" Mass was like.

As I walked in the church, two greeters handed me plastic folders with the words to the hymns that would be sung during Mass. Thankfully, they were all in English. I was worried that the Mass would be in Tagalog, or one of the other Filipino languages (My knowledge of Tagalog consists of "Kumusta ka?", meaning "How are you?," "Mabuti," meaning "Good," and "Bastos," the word my grandmother would use to describe rotten children like myself.).

St. Stephen's is a small, odd-looking church. It has a large stone belltower, and a large, arching piece of stained glass at the front of the church. The interior is also quite unconventional. The walls are almost pure white, with a smooth, rounded, arched ceiling. The white, adobe-like walls make it look like someone's set up a Catholic church in Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen's house on Tatooine. (This is a Star Wars reference. For those of you not galactically inclined, you can educate yourselves here.)

The choir, made up of a couple dozen male and female singers, did a nice job. Accompanied by one fellow playing the keyboard, their voices resonated strongly through the echo-prone church building. Though their style seemed to be a mix of modern church music and Filipino folk music, the echo and the many voices made them sound like Gregorian chanters. I was particularly struck by their rendition of the pop song "You Raise Me Up." I guess my grandmother isn't the only Filipino who likes Josh Groban.

The priest today introduced a Indian nun from the Sisters of Christ the Light, who cater to the needs of rural communities in India. She told several stories about their work, including that of a man who tried to kill her in a forest, but later came to her asking for forgiveness, and about a little boy who was grateful to receive an education from the Sisters. The thing that I found most interesting was that these Sisters work in areas that are 80% Hindu.

What I loved about this Mass was just how many people were participating in the Mass. There were probably 20 choir members, and 6 altar servers (think about it! That's a lot!) as well as ushers, greeters, and eucharistic ministers. It seemed like it was truly the product of a proud Filipino community, in which everyone was eager and willing to participate.

St. Stephen Martyr Church