La Iglesia Episcopal de Santa Maria Palm Sunday Reflection
Nine parishioners from St. Mary’s Arlington worshipped with our neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ at Santa Maria Episcopal Church in Falls Church. It is a mission church; the service is in Spanish, and the congregation is predominately from the large Bolivian diaspora in the Northern Virginia area. It was a delightful experience for all of us at many different levels, from witnessing a very different worship tradition from St. Mary’s to the fellowship afterward and meeting leaders of the church. We already plan to meet for a dinner on April 26 and have parishioners from Santa Maria join us for Sunday worship.
Here is my reflection on the experience. I did not look like I belonged compared to the hundreds gathered that day. I dressed differently and my skin is paler. The people of Santa Maria graciously and genuinely welcomed me as a visitor. The entire service is in Spanish and I don’t know Spanish. It followed the Book of Common Prayer so I knew the order of the service, the prayers being said, the celebration of the Eucharist, and when to pass the Peace.
The cultural identity of the congregation is expressed in the music, prayer, and other traditions that bind the people and the faith together. An acoustic guitarist and conga drummer lead the singing. The songs are more like ballads and folk songs than hymns. It accomplishes the same – to praise God and give Him glory. During the Lord’s Prayer, which is mixed with a song of thanksgiving to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence (maybe they borrowed the tune), everyone stands, holds their neighbor‘s hand or touches a shoulder so everyone is physically connected, as the one Body of Christ, and sings together. At the end before the final blessing, Fr Roberto calls for anyone celebrating a birthday to come forward and receive a special blessing.
It is a large, growing and vibrant church. As I have discovered, the two St Mary’s have a history together but on a smaller and more formal arrangement. As far as I know, this is the first time this many from St Mary’s have actually visited and worshiped at Santa Maria. How appropriate on Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, when we prepare for the Resurrection and enter into new covenant with God.
Something good is happening. We don’t know what exactly. That is the mystery. The Holy Spirit is leading us and so far we are going where we are led. First He lead us to worship together. Second He is leading us to join together in a fellowship dinner on Wednesday, April 26, and third to discuss together how to strengthen the relationship between us and the greater community within which both exist through continued worshipping together and discussions.