St James, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St James
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 2 March 2022, 8:30am

The building

The church dates from 1912 and is distinctive because of its ‘Baroque Byzantine’ style, as they call it. Their website mentions ‘its distinctive orange glazed brick exterior, red clay Spanish tiled roof, 122 foot bell tower, and 80-foot dome.’ It is a prominent building in the area. The interior, renovated in 2006 (again quoting from their website) ‘to its former glory,’ is full of symbolism with statues of various saints, stained glass images of the gospel writers, listings of the Beatitudes, and capped off with the all-seeing Eye of God in the dome.

The church

The parish has been combined with St Brigid, another church in the area. Their many ministries are well documented on their website. There is one weekday mass Monday through Friday and three masses each Sunday, including one in the evening. The Rosary is said on the last Sunday of each month.

The neighborhood

Louisville sits on the Ohio River, which forms the border between Kentucky and Indiana. Founded in 1778, it was named after King Louis XVI of France as a tribute to the French soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War. The church is situated in the Highlands, Louisville's artsy area, on busy Bardstown Road. The area features great restaurants, coffee shops, small art shops, and a variety of people strolling about. It is a progressive and LGBT friendly area.

The cast

Celebrant and deacon. There were no servers, but the readings were given by a laywoman.

What was the name of the service?

Mass for Ash Wednesday.

How full was the building?

About 70 per cent full. The school community was in the front and parishioners and visitors in the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. Because of Covid, social distancing was still encouraged.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was not. It was a hard wooden pew – standard in churches built in 1912 like this one. But I didn't come for the pew!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quiet. The school kids were well behaved and other people were waiting for the mass to start.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘We begin the holy season of Lent by reminding ourselves of our baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Breaking Bread 2022, a missal and hymnal of the Oregon Catholic Press.

What musical instruments were played?

There was an organ that accompanied a cantor. The congregation remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

This church has a lot of angels – way more than the typical church. There were angels on the walls, on the stained glass windows, on columns, and in every nook and cranny. I was wondering if the angels were original or added later. If the architect saw a blank spot, he put an angel there.

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

It was a typical Roman Catholic mass with a priest and a deacon. No incense. No chanting. Ashes were blessed immediately after the sermon, and then the congregation were ashed as the cantor sang a hymn. At the offertory, the deacon presented the gifts and the lavabo bowl as a server would have done had there been one – he did not make the chalice as a deacon normally would. He did, however, assist the priest in the ‘little elevation’ at the Per Ipsum. At communion, priest and deacon both drank from the chalice, but the congregation received only the bread. The final blessing was, the priest said, a special blessing for Ash Wednesday.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

3 minutes.

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

8 — The priest spoke from the center of the sanctuary, not from the pulpit. He spoke clearly but rather rapidly, with many hand gestures. At the end of the sermon he spent a good amount of time explaining to the congregation how to approach to receive the ashes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was about how the gospel reading said not to let people know if you are fasting and how that seemingly contradicts walking around with ashes on our heads. But ashes are not a sign of bragging – they are a sign of God’s grace, which we all need. It’s not showing off – it’s the proper spirit of Lent. Lent prepares us to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. By observing Lent we can become a better person.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

At the end of the mass, they did an affirmation for the school kids that was sweet. The kids repeated after the priest and it went something like: ‘I am a child of God. God made me. God loves me. God made me beautiful. God made me smart. I am a child of God.’ I thought it was a nice touch.

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

The pastor used an iPad and at one point, I guess, swiped the wrong way and had to get back to the text. The pitfalls of technology.

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

Because of Covid, people generally left singularly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Not offered.

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

8 — It was nice to be with the school community and the priest did a good job of making everyone feel welcome and explaining what happened.

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

It did.

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

So many angels. Everywhere.

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