Today is St. Carantoc’s feast day, and the church by that name is celebrating.
If you have not heard of Carantoc, there is a reason: He’s quite obscure. But there are some fascinating (well, odd) stories about this sixth century Welshman. He apparently traveled around with a portable altar, and once he propelled it out onto the Bristol Channel (on a raft, presumably, since it reportedly was made of marble, which limits the meaning of the word ‘portable’ somewhat), with the notion that where it came to rest, there he would build his church.
As I prepare my sermon, I set aside the thought that his church would likely have been under water. I turn instead to his encounter with a dragon, at King Arthur’s behest, no less. And sigh. This will not play well for a congregation proud of their saint.
No one can explain to me how a church in Francistown, Botswana, is named for St. Carantoc. It’s hard enough to find any in England, Wales, or Ireland. My uneducated guess is that St. Carantoc’s Church is created by the slightly older congregation (they’re both over a century old) of St. Patrick’s Church, also here in town, and they like the somewhat dubious tradition that Carantoc is trained by Patrick.
As there is no priest in Francistown, they are delighted to have one to celebrate the Eucharist on St. Carantoc’s feast day. Even me, though their tradition is not mine. Their history is Anglo-Catholic, and while I respect that tradition, I am a bit in the dark as to whether I must kiss the altar (they say yes), and when and how I am to deal with the incense. I live in fear that I will accidentally set fire to the altar, or worse (at least for me), my alb. I grew up Baptist, after all. This seems very foreign.
Over the years I have been immensely impressed with how well-trained young people (including the quite young) are as acolytes in Anglican African parishes. It is with some dismay, then, as we walk through the service on Saturday, that the young man who manages the thurible (where the incense burns happily) has never done it before. I have been counting on his experience.
But we manage. The acolyte master diplomatically remarks afterward: ‘We do things somewhat differently here than you are used to, don’t we?’
The service over, the church warden instructs me to follow her. I naively think she is leading me to the head of the line for the food now being laid out on tables outdoors. Instead we return to the church, where ‘the celebration is to continue.’
Various groups within the congregation come forward, singing all sorts of choruses, and presenting gifts for the food to come. Eventually I am to come forward and offer my gift, which I do, and even sing a solo, which I do not wish to talk about. Even though they cheer.
Finally we eat. After six hours, I am home.