In my youth, I attended my family’s parish, where the sainted Fr. G, a gregarious old Irish priest, ran things. Mom and dad married there. I was baptized, received First Communion, and was confirmed there. I played my first Mass there, in 1998, when I was a lad of 13.
And I have not played there since high school and barely been back. The sainted Fr. G retired, replaced by a bookish priest who was a bad fit for the parish and was replaced himself by a younger priest. There wasn’t a spot for me when I would return from college. Except for weddings and other events, I rarely dropped in.
But a chain of events sent me over to my first parish to fill in, and it was, indeed, a sort of homecoming. The old sights. The old sounds. The old stained glass windows.
True, only two people who were in the choir while I was there are still there. But on a dreary, pouring-rain Wednesday evening at the practice, I borrowed the music director’s keys and scampered up to the loft (though the organ wouldn’t be used) to revisit an old friend.
The loft didn’t look the same. Some kneelers were removed, and the books were all over the place. But still there, after almost a decade, was the console. I turned the organ on, got out a hymn (“Shall We Gather at the River,” because why not?), and let ‘er rip. The organ needed some work, but it largely sounded like the large instrument (the pipes are enclosed in rooms on each side of the loft) I grew up playing.
Playing the Mass on Sunday allowed me to wallow in nostalgia a little more, but it was also clear that things had changed significantly since I was last there. I was playing here:
Those pews weren’t even set up that way a decade ago. And I knew very few people. Didn’t recognize the servers, or the lector, or the announcement person, or the priest. The children were dismissed for the Liturgy of the Word (didn’t happen while I was there). There were no traditional hymns, which, admittedly, I still tend to prefer.
It was good to be back. Hopefully, I’ll pop in from time to time. But it’s amazing how things can change so much in what isn’t really that much time. And it’s more amazing that I still can be surprised by change as much as I am.