Monday, July 8, 2013

On the Track of Psalm Singers

Sunday, June 8, 2003 - Pentecost

Reformed Church - Szaszcsavas, Romania
Dr. Csaba Fekete, the Debrecen librarian, had recommended that we visit the small village of Szaszcsavas in Romania to hear the psalms sung in harmony.

So on June 8, 2003, we visited the Reformed church there. Though  we had expected around 200 people to attend the worship, that  morning only 70 were present. The pastor later explained that many  had gone to a market in a neighboring village - out of economic necessity. It was the only time and place for them to sell their  produce.

We also learned that the church musician responsible for the  congregation’s exquisite psalm singing was no longer there.  However, even though the organist’s playing was a bit shaky, the  congregation followed along sturdily. Their voices filled the white-  washed church made colorful by red embroideries typical of  Transylvania.

Of the 46 women sitting in the women’s pews, many wore kerchiefs, some colorful, some widow’s black. Ten of the twenty-four men present gathered together in the balcony as a lead choir, while a young man pumped the organ. The video crew crept up into the men’s balcony to capture the moment.

Rev. Jozsef Biro preached for about 20 minutes.

The music to be sung was posted in the front, just like I remember from my childhood church in Jamestown, Michigan. I had intended to write down the list of songs, but missed my chance because partway through the service, while I wasn’t looking, someone turned the song board around to display additional numbers. The final psalms were Psalms 141, 23, and 137.

The older generation

Because it was Pentecost, we witnessed a typical village communion service. A woman in our row muttered the prayer of confession from memory right along with the pastor.

Old is relative. The first pastor began in 1623.

First the men came forward and stood in a circle around the communion table. The pastor offered each man a piece of bread and then retraced the circle offering a sip from a large communion cup. Between each worshiper he swiped the rim with a white linen cloth.

After the men returned to their seats, it was the women’s turn. A small wrinkled woman impatiently pushed past Sonja and me; she was the one given the honor of leading the women to the communion circle.

Women's cup on the right, men's on the left

When the women's circle was finished, the same small woman led the way back to our pews. The rest of us peeled off in formation, falling into step behind her. I counted twelve young women. It appeared that about ten of the men were under age thirty.

Later I asked whether they were worried about the absence of young people in the worship. I was told that according to tradition, the young will come back as the older ones die off.

After the service ended the pastor invited us to join several of the church leaders in the manse. Following tradition, the men gathered in the church’s wine cellar to drink the left-over communion wine and finish the bread, a convivial communion. Sweet breads and cakes were delivered, I might add, by young women who did not linger, but promptly left to join the women upstairs.

The informality of the group encouraged conversation. I don’t remember who asked the question, “Is it better to pour wine into a glass of water or water into a glass of wine?” He quickly answered himself, “It’s better to pour wine into water because it improves the water, but doing the opposite would ruin the wine!”

On that note of good cheer, we packed up and headed for Marosvarsarhely (Targu Mures).

Leaving by the men's door

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