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of St Mary and St Martha of Bethany, Justus Lipsius College,
GuntherS under GNU Free Documentation License
of St Mary and St Martha of Bethany, Justus Lipsius College,
A decent-sized chapel at the end of a corridor, inside a red-brick
neo-Gothic complex, now used as student accommodation. The chapel
had been reordered since the 1960s and looks rather crowded
and untidy, though the beautiful original reredos and wall stenciling
remain. Dominating everything is the Bible Tree, a huge tree-shaped
sculpture holding Bibles in a variety of languages. The book
at the very top looked suspiciously like a Koran, though I was
unable to verify this.
It's the English-speaking community of the university chaplaincy
at the Dutch-speaking Katholiek Universiteit Leuven, the oldest
Catholic university still in existence in the world. According
to their website, their goal is "to welcome people from
various parts of the world... to foster an open atmosphere where
people... affiliated with the University and people who have
other affiliations can meet and experience Christian community."
Leuven is located about 30 km east of Brussels and is the capital
of the province of Flemish Brabant. It is home to the worldwide
headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer company
on the planet. Belgium's longest bar, as well as its smallest,
are both located here. Leuven is very much a university town;
besides the Katholiek Universiteit there are several vocational
schools and a well respected music conservatory. The chapel
is on a side street dominated by university accommodation, mostly
There seems to be a rotating schedule of priests, and I did
not get the name of the celebrant today. He seemed to be from
southeast Asia, perhaps Indonesia.
The date & time:
Trinity Sunday, 19 June 2011, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 120 seats; perhaps 80 of these were taken.
It felt full but not crowded. Four-fifths were young Africans
in couples or small families; the rest were young people from
all over the Catholic world. Over 40s could be counted on the
fingers of one hand.
Did anyone welcome you
No. I arrived about 10.15, when the choir were still practising,
and I was the second congregant to sit down.
Was your pew comfortable?
Individual high-backed chairs with cushioned seats but no kneelers. Comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service
Very quiet until 10.25, when I began to sense a hubbub behind
me. There was a lot of talking in this five minutes before mass,
but I did not find it overly distracting. Mainly children and
their parents. I couldn't tell if it was adults gossiping.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning" [pause for half-hearted response]. "Welcome to
mass this morning. Please join in our opening hymn, number 125."
This was delivered from the lectern by the choirmaster, as the
celebrant waited at the back.
What books did the congregation use during the
The group produces an A4 booklet each week containing the readings
and community news. There was also a set of self-published hymnbooks
with melody notation. An impressive effort for such a small
group. However, the readings as actually given were a different
translation from those printed in the booklet.
What musical instruments
Piano and amplified acoustic guitar. Hymns were a mixture of
traditional and modern, with an alleluia in an African language.
I was pleased that they made the efforts to sing the mass parts,
not just hymns. The choir (about six men) were obviously talented
and well-rehearsed, and did a good job of turning pedestrian
songs such as "Give Thanks" into something uplifting.
Did anything distract
There was a general background chatter from the many babies
and toddlers, but I didn't mind this. What I did mind was a
middle-aged Belgian couple in front of me who kept talking to
each other at inappropriate moments. The man ran his hand over
the woman's buttocks during the Lord's Prayer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It would be pretty standard for a liberal parish in the US or
UK. Lots of ad-libbing. The text of the creed was changed to
have Jesus born of the Virgin Mary and be made "flesh"
rather than "man". Communion was by self-intinction;
a lay woman broke the hosts during the Agnus Dei as the priest
completed his tour of the church for the exchange of peace.
I was too shy to stand up when a middle-aged American woman
invited all newcomers to stand and introduce themselves. A few
eastern Europeans did, to a polite smattering of applause.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The priest emphasized his important points by going
VERY LOUD for a few words at a time. Not what I am used to in
my English parish. It gave a great impression of enthusiasm,
and helped to keep my attention.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It being Trinity Sunday, he spoke about the meaning of the Trinity.
He said that though the Trinity is a mystery, God has revealed
it to us in the scriptures. He also said something about kissing
that I didn't understand. Then, he said how the Trinity shows
the perfect communication and love that we should imitate.
Which part of the service was like being in
The young people and their children.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The do-it-yourself attitude toward the liturgy, not following
the rubrics or language that connect us to the universal Church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was lost in the bustle of native languages, although I didn't
feel particularly uncomfortable; I was happy to see the young
African families catching up with each other.
How would you describe the after-service
It was too crowded to barge my way through, so I didn't get any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 Though this is very much not what I would want in a parish, beggars can't be choosers in a foreign country. If I lived here, I might just put up with it rather than go to a Flemish or French parish.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
The community of African immigrants with their small children seems to me exactly what a parish should be like. On the other hand, too much of the liturgical worship seemed to be focused on the participants, not the Almighty.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Bible Tree.
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