St Francis of Assisi, Gulf Breeze, Florida, USA

St Francis of Assisi, Gulf Breeze, Florida, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Francis of Assisi
Location: Gulf Breeze, Florida, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 June 2010, 9:00am

The building

A tidy little contemporary-styled red brick church with parish hall. The church and the parish hall are connected via an atrium-like cloister that also serves as the narthex to the church. The interior features a vaulted ceiling and a frieze with all the members of what was at the time the diocese of Florida.

The church

The congregation is made up of folks from a variety of lifestyles, ranging from families with small children all the way up to and including retired military and naval brass. They sponsor all the usual church groups. Of special note is Laughter Yoga. From their website: "Laughter is the best medicine...we're told...and yoga is a great physical and spiritual activity. Together it's a winning combination!" The church maintains a lending and research library that houses a substantial collection of books on church history, contemporary theology and biblical literature.

The neighborhood

Gulf Breeze is a small suburb of Pensacola, which lies to the north across Pensacola Bay. It sits on the leftmost tip of a narrow peninsula and thus is surrounded on three sides by water. The city is often called Gulf Breeze Proper to distinguish it from communities to the east that have a Gulf Breeze postal address but lie outside the city limits. For the most part Gulf Breeze enjoys a quiet, small town lifestyle, but in 1987 the city achieved fame for a series of UFO sightings that were witnessed and photographed by several residents; some claim the area receives visitors from outer space to this day. When the Kid was in high school some 50 years ago, Gulf Breeze was a mere crossroads with a single flashing traffic signal; today the city has been labeled a "strict enforcement area" by the American Automobile Association – one designation short of a speed trap. To the east of the city is the Naval Live Oaks Reservation, the home of America's first experimental tree farm, established by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 to provide lumber for shipbuilding. The reservation is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a unit of the National Park Service.

The cast

The Revd B. Massey Gentry, interim rector; Jane Ellis, lay eucharistic minister and chalice bearer; and Cathy Griffing, organist. The church has called a new rector, the Revd Christiana Olsen, who preached at a service some time ago that was the subject of another Mystery Worshipper report by Preacher's Kid.

What was the name of the service?

The Holy Eucharist, Rite II

How full was the building?

About 85 per cent. The building appears to have a capacity of about 200 to 225.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There were about a half dozen people who greeted us and inquired about us. We were invited to stay for the after-service repast.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was comfortable – padded and at a proper rake. The kneelers were easy to use.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential, with an admonition in the service leaflet to "be thoughtful, be silent, be reverent, for this is the House of God."

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. This is Fathers Day."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Prayer Book 1979; Hymnal 1982; service leaflet. The pew Bible was the New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ, electronic piano.

Did anything distract you?

There was a cell phone that went off regularly throughout the service.

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

The service was typical north Florida low church with the addition of the ding-a-ling type of sanctus bells. The only singing was the hymns.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

9 – The interim rector preached from the gap in the altar rail leading into the sanctuary rather than from the pulpit. His sermon was extemporaneous and without notes, and well thought through.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel reading was Luke 8:26-39 (Jesus drives demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs). The demons of the Bible are present today in the form of mental illness and personal discontent suffered by mankind. Some of us really don't want our demons cast out!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The church is a beautiful small church. The organist was talented and imaginative. The sermon was cogent and to the point.

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

Well, er, the choir could stand professional leadership and some significant training. And here is another church that keeps giving you the page numbers as if you had never crossed the threshold of an Episcopal church in your life!

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

No time to be lost. We flowed into the parish hall with everyone else.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We were told that the spread was special for Fathers Day. There were at least three kinds of brownies, along with watermelon, cantaloupe, half dozen or so cakes, cucumber sandwiches, coffee, tea, and iced tea. The drinks were great, but in styrofoam. We met at least 25 or 30 people.

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

9 – The Kid has fond memories of the new rector's preaching and would gladly come to hear her preach every Sunday once she has been installed (which will be in August).

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


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

The cell phone.

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