A large attractive orange and white wooden building operated by the Brewster Council on Aging, which provides space for the church to meet. The worship space is a simple recreational room, with a wooden cross with gold tape and a table on which were some flowers and a pretty chalice, perhaps made of clay. An electric piano sat on the left side of the room.
The parish began as a Bible study group among disaffected Episcopalians from various communities throughout the Cape. Eventually they decided to found their own parish and began the search for a priest. They believe strongly in salvation through Christ alone, and associate with other Christian groups engaged in spreading the Word. At least one of the parishioners continues to attend his original Episcopal parish as well as this church. I was impressed that during the service the priest invited all in attendance to come to a meeting to decide what the church should do with its financial resources. "We're not here to build an endowment, we're here to do God's work, and as a member of the church you have a say in how we do that."
Brewster is located on Cape Cod, which is a favorite vacation destination for Bostonians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders in general. The Pilgrims first landed at Cape Cod (in what is now Provincetown), and most of the towns on the Cape date back to the 17th century. It has a long history in commercial fishing, which attracted Portuguese immigrants to the Cape, but now is best known for vacation homes, beaches, fudge, and Irish pubs. After summer, the population of the Cape dwindles markedly. The area around the church is a mix of very pretty homes with well-kept yards, on the one hand, and small commercial enterprises (retail stores, antiques, restaurants), on the other. The building faces Route 6A, which is a pleasant road leading through residential and commercial centers of town along the northern part of the upper Cape.
The Revd Michael R. Rennier, rector, presided and preached. There was also a guest speaker, the Revd Priyanath Rufus, who has been engaged in missionary work in the Himachal Pradesh region of India since 1989. People told me later that the parish has had a close relationship with the Revd Rufus even though he is not Anglican.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist
How full was the building?
About three-quarters full, perhaps 25 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
At the entrance to the building was a folding table staffed by a man handing out service pamphlets. He greeted me with a friendly "Welcome, good morning" and gave me a name tag so that people could call me by name (regular parishioners were also wearing tags). He also pointed me to the stairway leading up to the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
About 35 simple metal chairs with plastic seats had been set up for the service. I was not uncomfortable, nor was I overwhelmed by any luxuriousness.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A lot of greeting as people arrived. A couple of people made a point of welcoming me. Relaxed atmosphere, not particularly worshipful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books of any sort. The entire service, including hymns, was projected by a computer onto the wall behind the altar. The priest at one point was reading from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric piano.
Did anything distract you?
A persistent fly was buzzing about me for the first half of the service. Eventually he moved on to annoy someone else.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would describe the service as middle to low Anglican. It was formal in that it followed the liturgy carefully and seriously (Rite II, by the way), but there were no bells, candles or incense. The hymns were a mix of traditional and modern. Some were very familiar to me from my church, while others I had never heard before. The exchange of peace was drawn out, with each person determined to greet every person in the church. All Christians were invited to take part in the communion, which was done with those receiving communion coming up to the altar to do so (standing as opposed to kneeling) by row at the direction of an usher.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Rennier was actually trying to keep his sermon under a minute so that the guest speaker, the Revd Rufus, could tell about his missionary work in India. But after he concluded his talk, one of the parishioners pointed out that he had spoken for just over two minutes. He demonstrated how effective a simple sermon can be, making his points quickly but powerfully.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The act of disciplining (or reminding) our fellow Christians when they go astray should be done out of love and not out of ego or feelings of superiority. We are all sinners, struggling to live as God wants us to, so we should treat each other as loved companions, not as children to be corrected.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
For a small congregation, the singing was very impressive. I felt carried aloft by some of the beautiful voices nearby.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The most hell-like moment to me occurred when speaking to parishioners after the service. Not that they were rude or unfriendly, they were anything but; it was my own realization that these warm, welcoming people for reasons I couldn't quite fathom felt so out of place in the Episcopal Church that they chose to align themselves with an Anglican bishop in Kenya. They were quite willing to talk to me about it. They said that it "wasn't just the gay thing. We believe that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, and we feel the modern Episcopal Church has strayed from that core belief." They certainly seemed committed to the latter, but I still feel that there was more going on there than they admitted to me to drive them to such a foreign association. I just didn't know what else to ask them. Back home, my own priest commented that he felt they must have a very limited view of Christ to be so restrictive in their beliefs on the way to salvation.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service, the majority of people gathered at the back of the room where refreshments had been set out. A couple of vestry members came over to me. They were very interested in how I had found out about the church and were eager to answer my questions.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, jalapeno cornbread and watermelon. Simple, but satisfying.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Wonderful people, but I love the progress the Episcopal Church has made, so I obviously wouldn't feel comfortable here as a regular parishioner.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. I am always encouraged by people who are so dedicated to their faith and acting as Jesus calls us to do, but I remain troubled by their efforts to leave the Episcopal Church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The simple makeshift chapel space, reminding me that all the trappings may aid in worship, but true believers carry on their faith in whatever space is available.