St John's Cathedral, Denver, CO (Exterior)

St John's Cathedral, Denver, Colorado, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's Cathedral
Location: Denver, Colorado, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 24 December 2014, 5:00pm

The building

The Cathedral of St John in the Wilderness is a 20th century interpretation of Gothic architecture, begun in 1909 and dedicated in 1911. The architects were the New York firm of Tracy and Swartwout, known primarily for their non-ecclesiastical buildings. A decision not to use flying buttresses in the construction resulted in the need for thicker walls than planned for, and the cathedral actually sank into the ground during construction. The walls had to be disassembled and the foundation corrected before construction could proceed. Even so, only the nave was ever completed; the quire, transepts and great tower were never built. The result is a long thin building with three aisles, actually quite modest for a cathedral. This evening it was lavishly decorated with poinsettias for Christmas.

The church

They support St Francis Center, (quoting from their website) "a refuge for men and women who are homeless ... to meet their basic needs for daily survival and to transition out of homelessness." They have programs for men, women, youth and seniors. One upcoming event that caught my attention is a Superbowl party with buffet dinner, proceeds of which will go to support an upcoming youth pilgrimage. They also appear to have regularly scheduled wine and cheese receptions for newcomers.

The neighborhood

This is downtown Denver, replete with charming turn-of-the-century (20th, that is) houses. Parking is limited and shared with a wine store, which seemed to be doing a huge business on Christmas eve.

The cast

The Revd Peter Eaton, rector and dean of the cathedral; the Revd Robert Hendrickson, sub-dean; the Revd Canon Elizabeth Marie Mechionna; the Revd Canon Jadon Hartstuff; the Revd Canon Steward Charles LaFond.

What was the name of the service?

Christmas Eve Service.

How full was the building?

To the max, with people lining the right and left aisles.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, many people outside and inside.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There had been two earlier services, and there would be two later ones as well. We arrived around 4.10pm for the 5.00 service and found the queue winding almost around the building! We chatted with those around us; the mood was friendly and festive.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to St John's Cathedral."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We had a handout that had all the music and responses.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and six brass instruments. The organ is an opus of W.W. Kimball Co. of Chicago, dating from 1938, one of the few intact instruments remaining of this once prolific builder of organs. It was renovated in 2009-2011 by the Spencer Organ Company of Boston.

Did anything distract you?

Just our grandchildren trying to escape from the pews!

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

Reverential and quiet. This service was entirely devoted to the children. The rector told the Christmas story of the Nativity, much like Lessons and Carols with carols incorporated into every scene. Children assembled the crêche by carrying pieces of the crêche down the main aisle. Each child had been handed a small wooden star before the service, and they were requested to bring their stars forward to decorate the crêche.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon as such, just a welcome and then the Christmas story and carols.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music, from Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, George Guest, Peter Warlock, an Old Winchester hymn, along with the old standards. I thought I would die laughing when the rector said, at the offering, Set the children loose! and the children were invited to participate in collecting the offering.

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

The anticipated Gustav Holst was totally inaudible because the sound system was off.

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

Everyone said hello and Merry Christmas.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Everyone was off to get on with their evening, and there were the lines of people anxious for the next service.

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

8 – If only I lived in Denver! It was a great church and they have so many programs within the congregation.

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


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

Set the children loose!

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