I was expecting that it would be hands down my favorite. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Linn County, Iowa. The present building was built well before the 60’s.
It has the most beautiful old stained glass you can imagine. Gorgeous windows, some round, most in the traditional oval tops. They are pictures of various saints. I sat opposite St. Rose of Lima.
The pews are old, too short, so one is never quite comfortable. The altar was pulled off the original back wall and moved forward with lovely marble pillars arching behind and alongside it. The sanctuary actually is in the church, something that is rare these days.
There are actual statues gracing either side. It is thoroughly Marian, given its name, Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was dark.
It was in a word, just my cup of tea.
I felt no welcoming when I entered. It seemed cold and withdraw as did its occupants. A rosary was being prayed, which was a plus, but I noted that many seemed to sit in sullen silence. The folks in front of me discarded phones and earphones on the seat to either side of them. Their teenage daughter stood with her foot perched upon the seat, looking as bored as any 14-year-old can be, being forced to be where she clearly did not want to be.
I was still hopeful of course, since I love this type of old church so much and usually feel my heart soaring to God upon my entrance. Yet this didn’t happen. I waited.
Things began, and I looked about and realized that this 9 am mass was the “white” mass. A mass at 12 noon was most certainly the Hispanic one – obvious since it was conducted in Spanish by the literature. Still, I expected more mixing and there was precious little.
Father is an exceptionally young man, looking at odds in such old surroundings. The parishioners are decidedly more elderly than young as well. This looks for all its worth as a parish that is in transition, the Anglos a dying out bunch, the Hispanics clearly in the ascendency.
All went as expected until the homily. Then I realized that this Church and I were probably not destined to know one another well. I suspected of course, given its Hispanic influence, that it would be fairly conservative. That has been my experience before in a Hispanic parish in Michigan.
There, at Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had been warmly welcomed, and had fallen in quickly. I was put to work serving coffee after Mass by the second visit, and I enjoyed a lively conversation with the priest there, who was native to Cuba. It was odd, him serving a largely Mexican heritage congregation. But all seemed happy there.
This conservatism was not of ritual however. That I expected. It had to do with what Father said. And it was that all of us fine church goers should be lively in our faith, and vote, calling our state to a Constitutional Convention, where we could enact a new amendment to “preserve traditional marriage.”
Quite a stretch in a homily devoted to how strangers turned out to be more faithful than the faithful.
No wine was served at communion, something I have never experienced before. There were no altar girls, but one woman served as a Eucharistic minister. A Catholic nun spoke for a few minutes encouraging everyone to support Birthright, an organization devoted to helping women with unwanted pregnancies, want them.
More than the usual number of folks received communion and kept on walking out the doors. Singing was lacklustre at best, and only one verse was sung of the exiting hymn.
It struck me mostly, as a lot of folks who have been going to mass for so many years that they frankly don’t think about it any more. They just do it. I felt no sense of awe, or Spirit within the building.
I, of course, don’t mean to speak for anyone there. What was going on in their hearts is between themselves and God.
I walked to my car with the strong conviction that I would not likely return, unless my “schedule” somehow made it easier to stop in there than elsewhere. They are the only church in town that holds a mass every day at noon. During Lent, they may have some choices of times that others don’t which might entice me there again. But it will be for convenience, and not because I feel “in God” while there.
I felt, decidedly as if I had missed a date with God today.
I found that odd.
Mostly I found it a shock. I guess ritual and building are a good deal less than I had thought.