Holy Faith, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Faith
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 25 December 2013, 10:00am

The building

A low, unpretentious building of dressed stone, not the usual Santa Fe style, although a 1952 addition was by the quintessential Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem (who served as a warden). The nave has a peaked wooded roof; the walls are light colored adobe, with stained glass windows in various styles. A unique altar screen unfolds to cover the sanctuary wall beneath three tall spectacular windows.

The church

In July 1863, Bishop Josiah C. Talbot arrived from Colorado by stagecoach – "a dreadful trip, with drunken passengers singing obscene songs," he wrote in his diary – to celebrate holy communion in a private home. From that humble beginning, the congregation has grown to become one of the most active in New Mexico. In addition to offering all the usual ministries and groups commonly found in Episcopal churches, they maintain ecumenical relationships with the Cathedral of Saint Francis and First Presbyterian Church and participate in a joint liturgy on Palm Sunday. There are three eucharistic celebrations each Sunday: one said, one with music, and a third with chant and ceremony. They also have children's chapel. During the week there is a Taizé service as well as the eucharist.

The neighborhood

Santa Fe ("holy faith" in Spanish) is New Mexico's capital and its fourth largest city. It was laid out in the Spanish style, with streets radiating from a central plaza. After New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, rapid expansion threatened to diminish the city's attractiveness, and so zoning ordinances were passed that required new structures to be in the "Pueblo Revival" style: stucco walls, exposed wooden beams and rainspouts, etc. The resulting meld of Hispanic, Anglo and Native American cultures makes for a uniquely charming atmosphere. Santa Fe has long been a magnet for the arts. The church is located off Paseo de Peralta, just a block from the plaza, and equidistant from the Canyon Road art galleries. Old Santa Fe at its best!

The cast

The Revd Kenneth Semon, rector, was celebrant. The Revd James Brzezinski, assistant for pastoral care and liturgy, served as deacon. They were assisted by a subdeacon, five acolytes, two lectors, a choir of twelve, and organist.

What was the name of the service?

Christmas Day Service.

How full was the building?

Comfortably full – about 150 people in about 160 seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. Folks at the door said "Merry Christmas" and gave us a bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?

Typical wood pew with kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and respectful.

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?

The Holy Bible, Prayer Book 1979, Hymnal 1982, and a 20 page leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, with impressive sound. Originally an opus of M.P. Möller from 1962, it was rebuilt and augmented in 1975 by Layton Organs, Inc.

Did anything distract you?

A cute child, the only one present, whom everyone doted upon. She did not want to be in the pew – she wanted to walk down the aisle and see people!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very reverent, but not stiff. Very Catholic, but in a low key sort of way. The vestments were fairly plain – no cloth of gold here – and the deacon wore only alb and deacon's stole; the subdeacon only alb. No incense, no bells, no chanting, but as close to Catholic as I've been to in a while. Traditional Christmas carol hymns, including some less-heard ones ("A rose there is a springing", "Angels from the realms of glory").

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – Father Brzezinski spoke in a kind of monotone, and I wouldn't say his sermon was structured by emphasis.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Word and Light. In the beginning was the Word, a proclamation that does not express the fullness of what was happening. God is light. Like the farolitos (called luminaries in some places) that led our way into the Christmas Eve service, the light marks the way. Jesus is more powerful than our darkness. When we receive him in the eucharist, we dispel our darkness.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

They have some wonderful singers and soloists in their choir. Some of my favorite songs that were sung were "Infant holy, infant lowly" (based on the traditional Polish carol W zlobie lezy) and an adaptation of "Lo, how a rose ere blooming." Then there was a solo from the Messiah, "He shall feed His flock", by a choir member.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Other than being a slightly distracted by the little child, it was pretty tame.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We listened to the postlude. We took a lot of photos. This church has some lovely stained glass on all sides of the building. Also, the altar screen is quite well done.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasnt any, so we walked into town to find breakfast.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – I would probably join the choir, if I were a member.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

The quick sermon, good music.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The music.

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