Saturday, June 23, 2012

Week One in Geneva

Well, I've actually been here a bit more than a week.  I arrived Thursday morning, after an ok overnight flight on a subsidiary (I think) of Lufthansa called Swiss International Airlines.  The only nonstop flights from NYC or Newark to Geneva.  Waiting to pick me up was Alan Wittrup, husband of the Senior Warden of Emmanuel Church, who kindly took some time off his work at the International Labor Organization to greet a nervous traveler. 

Denise Bénéteau, wife of the Rector, welcomed me to their apartment.  What a nice person!  After organizing me, for which I am profoundly grateful, she left the next day for a week of cycling down one of the major rivers of France with her husband, who is on sabbatical.  I spent the next few days orienting myself -- getting a transit pass (CHF 50 instead of 75 because I am now 65), etc.

I was full of plans.  But I gradually realized I had no energy for plans.  So I have spent the better part of the week doing little things and resting.  I had no idea how tired I was, especially after the runup to Chapter, with Finance Committee and other obligations.  Yesterday (Friday) I woke up from a nap and realized I had my energy back, and went out for a long walk.  But a week to recover!

Last Sunday was the first at Emmanuel.  What wonderful, welcoming people!  And afterward the annual Choir Picnic, at the lovely suburban home of one of the choir families.  My first social meal in Geneva, and it was hot dogs, hamburgers and perfectly divine ribs, with rhubarb pie for dessert!  And ice cream sundaes, served up by the kids, who were dressed as waiters and perfectly charming as they took our orders.  Though they were a little vague about all the topping options, the menu memory running basically to chocolate sauce.  They were great!

During my weeklong slough of exhaustion I did manage several interesting things.  A parishioner who lives on the floor above took me and her visiting daughters and their friends to a recital of vocal students held at the Auditoire Calvin, next to the Cathedral in the Old City.  The Auditoire was one of the places where Calvin held forth.  Fifteenth century gothic church, small, stripped of everything visually interesting.  Used weekly now for services by the Scottish Presbyterians, and less frequently by the Dutch Calvinists and the Waldensians.  The recital was interesting, and perhaps illustrative of a vocal teacher's life:  several youngsters of varying promise, wildly cheered by their friends and families.  Some older folk who seem to want to graduate from singing for their own benefit to something more public, again with varying promise.  And several really, really good voices, professional or near professional quality.  One of them was the reason we were there, Patty Solomon, youth coordinator at Emmanuel, possessed of a perfectly wonderful soprano voice.  She sang Gershwin's "Summertime" better than I think I have ever heard it.  The note at the end -- high and long, the signature of the piece -- was absolutely thrilling.  One of the older guys, whose first piece was so-so, sang for his second "Bring him home" from Les Miserables.  I love that song anyway (what does that say about a life as a monk --  the son I've never known, etc.).  He did it with amazing expression.  I was moved to tears.  A late night walk back made it a perfect evening.

I returned to the Vielle Ville to see the Cathedrale de St. Pierre.  The interior is what you would expect a fourteenth/fifteenth century gothic cathedral gone Calvinist to be --  essentially devoid of interest except for the architecture itself, which is standard issue medieval gothic.  But underneath is the real story.  There has been first class archaeological work underneath the cathedral, with walkways through the various zones of the site.  This tour carries you all the way back to ca. 100 BCE, when the site was essentially created with the burial of some tribal worthy, likely an Allobrogian chieftain, whose skeleton (I am supposing it really is his skeleton, and not a display copy) is a little more than half exposed.  Over him in succession were raised a sort of mausoleum, then a tribal temple to his genius (presumably), then a Roman temple, then a church, then another church, and then another and another, and so on.  His burial essentially defined the space as holy. 

I then visited the Musée de la Reforme, and was fortunate to latch onto the English language tour.  It is housed in a very fine 18th century house built over the former cloister of the cathedral.  Books, books and more books, lots of paintings, lots of letters.  I located a copy of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, but not the Edict itself.  And something curious about the bookshop: tons of Calvin, of course, but not a single Bible in sight.  The charming attendant told me there was a Bible store just down the hill.  Curious.  Not enough Bible business for two shops selling the scriptures?  In Geneva??

The music director at Emmanuel is a seriously gifted woman named Shauna Beesley.  She is a singer and composer.  She recently composed an opera on Michael Servetus, the proto-Unitarian who was burned at the stake on Calvin's instructions.  Le procés de Michel Servet.  Major blot on Calvin's historical copy book, perhaps the biggest blot.  The opera was produced in Geneva, but ran into various roadblocks. Apparently the City of Calvin is still quite protective of his memory.  Shauna and her husband invited me to dinner, with the purpose of reading through Shauna's adaptation of a novel as a libretto.  I won't say which novel so as not to step on her fame when and if it is composed and produced as an opera.  Fascinating!  There we were, reading as best we could, Shauna changing things on the spot, and all of us discussing how this or that worked.  She is amazing.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is Youth Sunday.  The kids are doing basically everything except the sermon (which I will key to the younger ones -- the calming of the storm, perfect for child participation) and the consecration of the elements.  Then the Church picnic, held at a grand maison in the country belonging to one of the parishioners.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eastertide and Ministry

Holy Week and Easter have came and gone. It was glorious here at the Monastery. The community gave quite a lot of thought to what went well and what didn't go so well last year and made a few adjustments. Nothing major, but they worked pretty well. For the last few years I have been asked to be the confessor for the clergy before the Holy Tuesday Mass of Collegiality at which the clergy renew their ordination vows at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. I regard it as a great privilege, and think the Order is honored to have one of OHC's priests do so, and march in and sit up front and all that sort of glorification. Not that the whole clerical order is lined up for the sacrament of penance. But I am always moved by those who do.

 The monastery's Library Volunteers were with us again at the beginning of May. This is a working retreat program that has grown in its three years or so into a real community of people. I can't express how wonderful it is to have their help in the never-ending work of improving our library collection.

The last two Sundays (May 27 and June 3) I took the service at the Spanish language congregation of La Virgén de Guadalupe, which meets at Christ Church, Poughkeepsie. I was cheered to find that I could still officiate and preach in Spanish after some years away from that ministry, which has been such an important part of my life. The service on June 3 began with a baptism and then 8 first communions, so it was a very family affair. There is a wonderful sort of background noise that babies and little ones make in church that I realized I have missed -- sort of like the waves of the sea at the shore, rising and falling, sometimes soft and sometimes not so soft, but continuous. I love it, and it was such a joy to be in it again. Those making their first communions ranged from about 6 or 7 to 22, all dressed in white, as is customary. The lay leader of the congregation, Dominga Jimenez, was marvelous leading me through a ceremony I had not performed in some years, and which is always a little different in each church.

June 3 was also Trinity Sunday, and I preached at the Monastery. The sermon is posted here.

This week is Chapter for the Order of the Holy Cross. The brethren are gathering. The Finance Committee, of which I am chair, meets today. I have spend days getting the information packets ready -- statements and budgets from all four monasteries (West Park; Santa Barbara; Toronto; Grahamstown, South Africa), the Holy Cross School, the OHC Corporation and our financial advisers, various grant requests, as well as matters relevant to this meeting of Chapter. It's a lot, and it will have to move along fairly briskly in order to do everything we need to do. I'll be glad when it is accomplished.

Next week, when Chapter is over, I will fly to Geneva, Switzerland, to be one of the priests who will take Sunday services at Emmanuel Episcopal Church there while the Rector, John Beach, is on sabbatical. It is a working vacation. I'll be there the Sundays of June 17 and 24 and July 1 and 8.  I've never been to Switzerland, and hope to travel around a bit. Many adventures!