We went to church last night. It was the regular Wednesday night service at Capilla Calvario/Calvary Chapel Rosarito, but since it’s so close to Christmas, it was a Christmas themed service, complete with special Christmas music.
Not to mention an entire set of congregational Christmas carols in Spanish and English.
To start with, I think I have already mentioned how cool it is to have a church service in both English and Spanish. I may not have mentioned, however, how much fun it is to sing familiar worship songs in another language. This is only magnified when those songs are Christmas carols. Spanish is pretty easy to sing along with, too, once you get over the whole combining vowel syllables between words thing.
The hardest part, actually, was the clapping. Mexicans default to clapping on the on-beat (1 and 3), while American churchgoers have taken in the past 30 years to clapping on the off-beat (2 and 4) in their church services. Since the worship team at this church is half Mexican, half American, and the worship songs are largely translated American worship songs, the clapping is leaning more and more towards the off-beat.
I remember, back in the late 70s, when our ultra-hip worship leader introduced off-beat clapping to our congregation of seriously white on-beat clappers. The result was the same kind of cacophony of clapping, so last night I recognized the looks of confusion on some of the faces as people struggled to clap along with everyone else but just couldn’t seem to get their hands to obey their brains.
My British father had struggled with this clapping thing when it was foisted upon him in the 70s. He had been clapping on the on-beat for over 40 years and just couldn’t retrain himself to switch beats. Being an engineer, however, he came up with a solution. He would jerk his hands down and to the side on the beat, and then bring them together on the off-beat. I wanted to offer this solution to a couple of people I saw struggling last night, but fortunately lacked the language skills to pull it off.
I say fortunately because in hindsight, I realize that might have been rude.
We finished up the carol-singing portion of the service with a rousing rendition of Feliz Navidad. We clapped on every beat for that, so everyone relaxed and joined in with gusto.
The guitar class performed for us next – 15 guitars in unison, some strumming and some playing the melody. They did very well. The youngest member of the class, a darling little girl of about 9 with a half-size guitar, did occasionally stay on the same chord for half the song, but she smiled while she did it and sang along, so it really didn’t matter. They finished up with a rousing rendition of Feliz Navidad. We clapped along. On every beat.
After the sermon, which was on the Christmas story as told in Lucas/Luke 2, in English and Spanish, the pastors gave an altar call. I’m used to hearing altar calls, especially around Christmas or Easter, when the pastor asks if anyone wants to commit their life to Christ for the first time. This altar call, however, was not the usual perfunctory, “Anyone? Anyone? Raise your hand while everyone else’s head is bowed” kind of thing. The pastors took their time. They also insisted, since Jesus had always asked for a public confession of faith, that the people wishing to commit their lives to Christ walk down to the front of the room. This made it a little more than the quick shrug and nod-to-the-Almighty Prayer for Fire Insurance to which many altar calls have sadly degenerated. This was a commitment. People had to mean it with every step they took, all eyes on them, toward the front of the room. The pastors knew this, so they didn’t hurry. They gave them time to think it through, and asked the rest of us to pray silently.
Sure enough, after a few agonizingly quiet minutes, a man stood, accompanied by another man, and made his way toward the front. The congregation erupted into cheers and applause. And once the ice was broken, people started toward the front. The pastors crouched down and shook each of their hands, congratulating them and pointing them toward the prayer room at the side where some other pastors would give them Bibles and explain to them the impact of the decision they had just made.
The service was now technically finished, except that we had been promised a long-awaited performance by the children’s choir. In costumes. It was everything a Christmas children’s choir performance should be. The first person on the stage was a little shepherd, who stomped across the stage with a wry grin. I have led Christmas children’s choirs, so I recognized this kid right off the bat. He was The Troublemaker. But, you know, so cute, and so good-humored, the choir director would just roll her eyes and smile and ask him to tone it down and secretly favor him over the others. At least, that was always my reaction.
The rest of the kids filed on and shuffled and tripped and pushed smaller kids forward and dropped their props and clumped together and had to be physically pulled apart by the director and her helpers and told to spread out across the whole stage. While this was occurring, the sound guys were scrambling around adjusting mic stands, and the first soloist was frantically trying to check the wireless mic, but since no one was in the sound booth, no one had turned it on, so no matter how many times she tapped the mic and checked the switch, nothing came out of it, causing the panic on her face to increase exponentially with every tap.
Eventually everyone was in place and the song began. The little girls who had narration roles nailed their parts, not missing a word, and even more impressively, somehow managed to get the microphone up and down the line to the next narrator without anyone missing a cue. The mic then ended up in the hands of the lead singer for the song, a boy with a red shirt and black tie who knew the song cold. He belted it out with confidence, not missing a beat, and hitting every note… about an interval of a third or fourth below where it was supposed to be.
And it didn’t matter. It just didn’t matter. The point was, he had a solo, he had worked hard on it and he was just so happy to sing it. Nobody cared that he completely missed the key. Apart from that, he nailed the performance, and that was all that anyone wanted from him. This is one of the beauties of Mexico – priorities in the right order. So the performance wasn’t CD-ready. So the kids were singing along with a track that already had voices on it. That wasn’t important. What was important was that the kids had worked hard and were singing about Jesus and everyone appreciated it.
At one point, five children held up large glittery letters, but since the boy holding the U forgot his cue, the word they spelled was JESS. After a few seconds, one of the S-holders whacked the U-boy on the head with her S, causing the U-boy to look panicked and quickly hold up his U. The cue then came for the letter-holders to hold their letters high above their heads, and this time the U-boy was ON the cue, holding his letter high with exuberance… and promptly dropping it. He disappeared into the crowd for a moment, then emerged with the letter and thrust it victoriously back up into the air.
Towards the end of the performance, Troublemaker-Shepherd, who had actually been behaving himself quite impressively up to this point, apart from some facial expressions and elbows into the ribs of the Shepherd Number Two beside him, suddenly noticed that there was a live mic on a stand right in front of him. With a grin he leaned forward, stopped singing and yelled something into the mic. Then he stood back up and recommenced singing with a wide grin on his face. It was just too much to resist, though, so he leaned forward and repeated it, just as the choir paused for dramatic effect. Then he elbowed Shepherd Number Two and got him to try out the mic. The two looked very pleased with themselves as the song ended and the congregation applauded.
The service ended then, and the sound guys put on a CD of Christmas music. The first song was a rousing rendition of Feliz Navidad. We didn’t clap this time, but the guy in his 60s down the end of the row I was sitting in did stand there and do a little head-bobbing dance-in-place for a minute or so.
It was the best Christmas service I’ve attended in a long time.