Worshiping the Bishop


We learn to expect the unexpected when we travel and that includes attending worship service at “the bishop’s church.”  We have worshiped at this church many times both before and after its major renovations making many now refer to it as a  “cathedral.” Each time is meaningful.  This was an earlier worship experience and a light-hearted reflection of it.

Don and I arrived early for the service along with the other gringos in the group.  Little did we know that the assigned time to begin the service is only a suggestion.  The bishop begins services when he chooses.  (Later, we discover there is a good reason for this.) First, he strolls through the pews welcoming each and every person knowing in advance which delegations from outside the country will be worshiping there today.

Don’s candid observations:

I took my camera wanting to get pictures.  Before I knew it, someone appeared behind me and whisked me by the arm down the center aisle.  My camera was left on the pew.  Would Caroline take pictures during a worship service?  No; that is not her style; she would be too passive.  I’m sunk.  Besides, she doesn’t even know how to operate my camera, nor does anyone else in our group.  As I’m being escorted toward the front of the sanctuary, I grab another gringo who I am guessing is fluent in Spanish.  Lucky call on my part because this girl translates the reason for my being pulled from the pew.  I’ve been tapped to participate in the worship service by the bishop.  In a blur of activity within the sacristy, someone is placing a robe over me and the stole of the day while giving me directions on how to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion in that parish.  It is a privilege and honor to be asked to do the “verba,” the Words of Institution for this congregation.  Thank God for the translator who is instructing me that because half of the members are converted Roman Catholics, I am expected to place the wafer into their mouths.  How do I know who is Catholic?  I now am instructed to make my way around to the street-side of the church to process with the rest of the clergy.

Caroline’s candid observations:

Here I am sitting at the end of the pew next to one of the regulars, an older man, who is trying his best to make me feel welcome.  My “no Espanol” does not dissuade him from trying.  After awhile he goes on to read aloud from his Bible and I ask his permission to take his picture as a way of practicing with Don’s camera since Don has now disappeared from our group leaving it behind.  I know if I don’t get some shots, I’ll never hear the end of it despite the fact I feel it is rude to do so during a worship service.  I will wait to see if anyone else takes any during the service before I try.

The music begins, people turn toward the rear of the sanctuary to face the cross, and geez, there is Don all robed.  How did that happen?  Bingo.  Grab the camera.  Gotta get a shot of that whether I’m chastised by the bishop and yanked out of the service or not.

Both of us: Now we see why the service was late beginning.  Bishop Gomez has included several of us visitors into this service that he welcomed before it began.  Each speaks in his own language, of course, making this somewhat of a Pentecostal event.

During the service a lovely young girl who has turned 15 this week – the Quinceanera is a special birthday celebration in the Latin American culture – comes forward to place 15 coins into a box as a gift to the church celebrating each year of her life as everyone counts and then sings to her.  (There are no bulletins or hymnals, but all lyrics to all songs are on a screen above the keyboard.)

Also during the service Don is given a warm tribute for working closely with the bishop and a special thanks for his many years of being in solidarity with the Salvadoran people.  He is given a nice round of applause by all.

The children come up before the sermon as the entire congregation sings a song for them which dismisses them to a “childrens’ church” much like our “Follow the Leader.” 

When the children return at the end of the service, my buddy beside me pushes me down the aisle along with the others in the group, to receive a wooden cross that each child takes turns placing around the neck of each of us visitors. 

At the conclusion of the service, all visitors are encouraged to attend a brief reception of donuts and juice in the bishop’s office while he talks about the mission of his church.  It is a very fulfilling morning.

The bishop then invites us to join him in a wedding he is due to perform in a campesino community later that afternoon.  How gracious of him to extend that invitation to us.  We would love to go, but are fearful that we would not be back in time for our appointment to do the second interview with the Supreme Court Justice that evening.   Our schedule is just too full!


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.