Brot und Weine
Churches always make me feel mildly anxious. Not because I’m worried that, by being in one, God has a clear view into the machinations of my depraved soul, but because I sit in the uncomfortable chairs with an ongoing unease regarding the various rituals I am not quite au fait with. Even after years of attending Christmas mass with my childhood best friend’s family, and even after years of Friday morning chapel at school, I still sit in wait for someone to shove a Melba toast in my face (even though I don’t take communion) or ask me a question and expect me to sing back in Latin. I can’t do the cross, am too busy singing to myself (or gazing out the window) to insert the appropriate Amens when required and whirl around manically, pumping people’s hands and barking ‘and with you too‘ before they’ve said ‘peace be with you’ to me.
Not being religious and rarely attending church, this awkward relationship with Christian ceremony isn’t too much of a problem. I daresay said relationship is subconsciously encouraged by me as a result of my lack of religious affiliaton and beliefs. But it does make the occasions I set foot in a church (say, for a wedding, which at my age, is an increasingly common occurrence) times of slight heart fluttering.
And all of this is when the ceremonies are in English. When I can read the lyrics of songs I don’t know, bumble my way through the Lord’s prayer, bristle with prerequisite Aetheist indignation at the sermon, perhaps come up with a reply-sermon in my head, to pass the time. When the ceremony is in German? I’m out. I’ve got nothing. Nothing except counting the panels of the (very beautiful) stained-glass windows, nodding vaguely at the words ‘mein Gott’ and translating words in the hymns like brot und Weine.
Which is what I did yesterday for two hours, during a lovely and very Catholic wedding ceremony, held in one of Muenster’s numerous churches. The pastor was, apparently, quite hilarious and, as they are these days in order to appeal to the wayward youths, rather charismatic. He gazed, he pondered, he quipped, he referenced parties. He wore robes sporting a dramatic flame motiff. He performed under the adoring gaze of a young, white-robed girl who I’m assuming was his apprentice and I know there’s a proper word for it, but it lies beyond my grasp currently (I’ve addled my brain with chocolate. I’m not proud). And all the while I sat there, wishing desperately for a champagne, waiting for some common ritual to take me by surprise, for the Melba toast to appear, for circulation to return to my lower half.
My thirsty wish for champagne was granted – tenfold – at the reception, when it became apparent there are some things that are universal. There are characters and fixtures of social ceremonies, worldwide, that pop up no matter where you are, no matter what language you’re speaking. Church services have youthful, charismatic pastors, putting a spin on dusty ideologies. Weddings have taffeta skirt suits, bold ties and an array of interesting shoe/frock combinations. Wedding receptions have personality-less moby discs with an inexplicably large collection of 80s power ballads and Michael Jackson.
And me, in the middle of the dance floor, belting out Billie Jean, champagne glass in hand.