Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We have stumbled across our church home in nearby Altopascio

I deeply appreciate my upbringing and roots in the Catholic Church—but I am more comfortable with the music, informality and overall approach of certain Protestant churches. Lucy and I are long-time members of an independent church in Gig Harbor, but finding a similar church in Italy has not been easy.

From 2011 to 2015, we took the train to Lucca and attended the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese. The train ran on a limited schedule on Sunday, and we would have to stay in Lucca until mid-afternoon before we could return to San Salvatore. We often had to ride our bikes to and from the train station in the chill and rain in the winter.

However, we were welcomed by like-minded and friendly people, many of them our age and older. The structure of the Sunday services reminded us of denominational American churches of the 1960s and earlier. Songs were from an old hymnal, accompanied by a pianist. A few individuals would read Bible passages. Pastor Domenico Masselli would make some announcements and then preach a sermon. He spoke clearly and supported his lessons with numerous Bible passages, which we could read in our English versions to aid us in understanding the messages. Then we’d all go up front to celebrate communion. We’d recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison, and everyone would disperse.

We were happy to encounter kind people who shared our beliefs, but we still found the experience lacking. The songs were taken from old English hymns that had been translated into Italian. Forcing verses from English to Italian and attempting to maintain the rhythm and rhyme made for some odd and hard to understand wording—definitely not conducive to meaningful worship. We would hang around after church to greet people, but our lack of skills in Italian meant that conversations were short. The only invitation we ever received to share lunch came from an English-speaking German couple.

We had done web searches for Protestant churches that might be closer to Montecarlo but came up empty. And then one day in April of 2015, we were walking in a residential area in Altopascio and passed a house that had a sign outside: Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica di Altopascio. It listed 10:30 a.m. at the time for the Sunday meeting. Could this be real, or was this an old sign of a church that once had existed but was no longer active?

A Google search for the church revealed almost nothing. The church had no web site. An old newspaper article mentioned a concert that had been held there in March of 2009. We had our doubts, but we would have to go on Sunday to find out. And so, during our last week in Italy in 2015, we drove our borrowed car 10 minutes to Altopascio and parked a few blocks from the house. Almost immediately, we heard it—loud singing accompanied by various musical instruments. This church was—is—alive and active, and we have been attending it ever since whenever we come to Toscana.
Some members of the music team at the Chiesa Evangelica di Altopascio.

We found about 50 or 60 people gathered in the home of the pastor. A large room had been custom-made for the meetings. Sunday school for children is held in a side room. It’s an independent church, founded and led by Italians, though certain characteristics remind us of the the Italian version of the Assemblies of God church we attended a few times in Padova.

The music is our favorite part of the gathering; we actually prefer it to that of our church in Gig Harbor. The songs are relatively new. The lyrics, written in modern Italian and taken from Scripture verses, are projected on the wall behind the music team. The leader plays a guitar and is usually accompanied by a keyboardist and sometimes a drummer. Three or four vocalists with microphones assist. But it’s not so much the melodies, words and instruments that appeal to us as it is the sincere and worshipful way in which the music is presented. Fervent prayers are offered between songs. Eyes are closed. Some people raise their hands. There is a strong shared feeling that God is present.

Pastor Giuseppe
We also like the fact that the culto—Italian name for a Sunday service—relies heavily on sharing from the congregation. Some 20 minutes can be taken for members to share verses and lessons they have learned. On one Sunday, the sharing went on so long that the pastor didn’t even give his message. We only regret that we still can’t understand all that is said during the sharing and sermon. For some reason, we were able to understand more of the sermon at the church in Lucca.

Breaking bread for the Lord's Supper.
We are gradually learning peoples’ names, and this winter for the first time, we were invited to dine at the house of two of the church members. Getting to know Silvio and Anna has been one of the highlights of our first month here in 2017, and we look forward to further developing this friendship. Silvio is one of the elders in the church, and I have approached him with an offer to create a free web site. Hopefully, this will help us become more involved with the community. And, more importantly, maybe it will also help a few more stranieri can find the way there.


5 comments:

  1. This is great new Paul's. The church sounds similar to our own in Roslyn at least as far as format. Having a church home where you can grow is such a blessing! So happy for you guys. Calvin

    ReplyDelete
  2. Enjoyed reading this church visit - it sounds like the B.F. of 30 years ago when sharing would be a large part of the service, I especially remember Paul standing and speaking effortlessly. Thank you for sharing this segment of your week and travels! -RF

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, Rob, but no longer so effortless for me to share now in Italian. But you're right about the comparison.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So glad you found a place to worship while you're in Italy! It sounds like it took a little time, but thank God (literally!) you didn't give up until you found the right church. It's great that so many people are sharing during the services. I get so much out of this blog, thanks for sharing your experiences!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the encouraging comment, Carson.

    ReplyDelete

Comments welcome.