St Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu, Hawaii

St Andrew's Cathedral, Honolulu, Hawaii


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Mystery Worshipper: Skampso
Church: St Andrew's Cathedral
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 February 2008, 10:00am

The building

The cathedral is a wonderfully bright and spacious house of worship in the early French Gothic Revival style. Complete with a cloistered garden and a peal of bells in the tower, it resembles parish churches in England dating from the late middle ages. Plans for the cathedral were first laid by King Kamehameha IV and his consort, Queen Emma, both devout Anglicans, in the early 1860s. After the untimely death of the king on St Andrew's Day, November 30, 1863, the queen was determined to see the project through to its completion as a memorial to her husband. The first service was held in the cathedral on Christmas Day 1886. Sadly, Queen Emma had died the previous year. Work on the cathedral continued throughout the early 20th century, and the building was finally consecrated in 1958. The cathedral is unmistakably Gothic, something of an anachronism in modern downtown Honolulu. Of special interest is the west window, reaching from the floor to the eaves, depicting Thomas Staley, the first bishop of Hawaii, standing with King Kamehameha and Queen Emma.

The church

The cathedral stands as wonderful evidence of two cultures coming together: the traditional Anglican culture and the native culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Prayers as well as hymns in the traditional Hawaiian language form a part of many of the cathedral's services.

The neighborhood

The state of Hawaii consists of hundreds of islands in a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, only a few of which are populated and only one of which is actually called Hawaii. Inhabited since at least the fourth century, the islands were discovered in 1778 by the English explorer James Cook. A kingdom until 1893, when the monarchy was overthrown, the islands were annexed by the United States in 1898 and were granted statehood in 1959. Honolulu, the state capital, is located on the island of Oahu. The whole area around the cathedral was once part of the Hawaiian royal family estate. Down the road is located Iolani Palace, home to the royal family for many years. Further east is the thriving beach-side metropolis of Waikiki, the center for tourism in Hawaii. Southwest of Honolulu lies Pearl Harbor, made infamous by the Japanese attack which brought the United States into the second World War.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Canon Liz Beasley, canon for Communication and Ministry Development for the diocese of Hawaii. The preacher was the Rt Revd Carol Joy Gallagher, former assistant bishop of the diocese of Newark and former bishop suffragan of the diocese of Southern Virginia. The organist was the very talented John Robert Renke, director of music. Joining the choir for the morning was a guest tenor, Zachary Stains, from the Hawaii Opera Theatre.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

A bit more than half full, which was a little disappointing seeing as there was a visiting bishop as well as a guest tenor.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Greetings were somewhat subdued at first. A lady at the entrance mumbled "Welcome" as she handed me a service sheet. I had arrived rather early, so there were no pew mates to say hello to as I sat down. Later, the peace ceremony consisted of just a quick shaking of hands with those around me, but no one made special welcome. The after-service refreshments were quite another story, though – read on!

Was your pew comfortable?

Just the standard old square wooden pews with solid backs, but surprisingly they were quite comfortable indeed. The kneelers were nicely padded and spaced far enough out from the pew in front to encourage kneeling for the prayers. The only issue came when everyone went to fold the kneelers back up for communion, and a loud knocking could be heard from multiple pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived early so I got to witness the full pre-service atmosphere. The choir were just finishing off a quick run-through, and the sound of the choir in the mostly empty cathedral was just divine! As parishioners started arriving, the chatter level increased exponentially. Right before the processional hymn, a traditional Hawaiian conch shell was sounded as a call to silence. This was just one of the Hawaiian traditions I mentioned earlier that were so beautifully crafted into the cathedral's liturgy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins; his mercy endures forever."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1982 Hymnal and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. There was also a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

A magnificent four-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ, called "an organist's dream" by one of the cathedral's former organists. The instrument consists of 150 ranks of pipes as well as several electronically sampled digital stops. The arrangement of pipes and digital speakers gave a wonderful stereophonic sound which was bright and clear.

Did anything distract you?

Chatter! The level of discussion that occurred before the service and flowed into the beginning of the service. The peace ceremony seemed to start some people off again. The guest tenor, Zachary Stains, gave a beautiful rendition of Cesar Franck's Panis Angelicus, but two elderly ladies in front of me thought it appropriate to continue their conversation all through his performance.

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

The worship, while decidedly stiff-upper-lip in the best of Anglican styles, was nevertheless a nice balance of the two cultures. The sounding of the conch shell, traditionally reserved for arriving Hawaiian royalty, was beautifully placed. We sang one hymn, the very staid old "Guide me, o thou great Jehovah", in Hawaiian as well as in English.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

9 – The bishop's style was very moving and she accentuated her points well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was based on John 4:5-42, the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well. Jesus sat and conversed with a Samaritan, whom Jews always tried to avoid. The woman might seem an unworthy conversation partner for Jesus, given her history with men, but Jesus looked past all of that and did not judge her. In the same way, we should all put aside our differences and seek God in all complicated times of life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Two parts. The first was the spine tingling sound of the conch shell being played in the resonating acoustics of the cathedral. The second was the beautifully sung Panis Angelicus. It was definitely the best performance of that piece that I have ever heard.

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

The really annoying chatter through parts of the service. I'm not normally one to get concerned over some talk in the congregation when it is quiet, but this was unashamedly loud chatter!

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

I joined the queue of parishioners waiting to greet the clergy, trying my best to look lost. When they heard my Aussie accent, they welcomed me to the cathedral and a lady sped forward to present me with a little visitor's bag. I thought this was quite a nice touch. The bag contained a welcome letter from the dean, a cathedral pen, a tour map of the building, and a nice card with the cathedral painted on the front. I was then invited to join others outside the cathedral for morning tea. While still looking a little lost, I was soon approached by a number of people who welcomed me personally.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Superb! Probably one of the best morning teas I have experienced. There was freshly made iced tea, very sweet, being served out of a giant punch bowl. Quite refreshing, as the morning was a little hot. To eat there were huge bowls of potato chips, cupcakes, biscuits and sandwiches by the tray load! To the side I could see that there was iced water and the usual instant coffee, but not many moved from the main table of goodies.

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

10 – The cathedral seems to be a welcoming place of worship but also offers many other weekday services, musical performances, ministries of all different kinds, and a nice incorporation of traditional Hawaiian values. It seemed to me to be a real happening and growing community.

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

Yes. The dignified celebration of the Eucharist, excellent preaching of the Word, and magnificent singing of hymns all combined to make this a very special Christian experience.

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

The bishop saying that we should lay aside our differences, sit beside one another, and listen to each other, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well.

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