St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA

St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper: Fading Lights
Church: St Paul's Cathedral
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 July 2009, 10:30am

The building

The church is one of the most attractive buildings I've seen in California. From the outside, you're not overwhelmed as it seems to be in the typical Spanish Mission style. Once you enter, your attention will be immediately drawn to the gorgeous stained glass in the church. The interior of the church is quite dark; however, the climate of San Diego yields close to 300 days of sunshine each year. The gray columns inside the church seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you can't help but pay attention up front to the stunning altar. The pipe organ is one of the most impressive I've ever seen. The altar decorations were the typical green for ordinary time.

The church

The cathedral was featured in the Gay Pride parade the previous Saturday, with a very large entry in the parade. The church also has a serious commitment to the arts. They host numerous concerts, offer music education, and even lend out music. The church's bulletin insert is a three page foldout which lists numerous outreach ministries.

The neighborhood

St Paul's Cathedral is located across the street from Balboa Park in central San Diego. The climate of San Diego is said to be the most favorable of any city in the United States. The area is surrounded by rolling hills, gorgeous architecture, and beaches, mountains, and desert within an hour. The immediate neighborhood is quite affluent, being one of the most desirable sections of the city to live in. Most of the housing is early 20th century with some newer places as well. Parking is quite difficult here as you have to hunt for street parking.

The cast

I think every priest in San Diego was part of this service! The Rt Revd James R. Mathes, Bishop of San Diego, presided. There were at least 12 vested clergy who also were present. The clergy wore a variety of stoles that did not match. One priest wore a gold stole; not sure why.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

The cathedral is quite large. I'd estimate about 300 people. There was certainly sufficient room for more, but the church seemed comfortably full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not really. I was handed a bulletin when I entered, but the people up front didn't seem to recognize me as a visitor. I did shake hands with a few people during the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. I wouldn't want to spend three hours there, but for a short service it was fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Thankfully, very quiet. I was surprised at how dark the interior of the building was.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The bishop chanted, "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." I loved this: The acclamation was done before the processional hymn. The people responded in chant, "And blessed be God's kingdom, now and forever, Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The entire service was printed on a very thick booklet that was handed to me upon entering the church. The Hymnal 1982 and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer were available in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ – and what a fine instrument this organ is. The original organ dates from 1887, with several stops still in use. It was enlarged in 1915 and again in 1950. It was completely rebuilt in 1969 by the Aeolian-Skinner Company (one of the company's last projects west of the Mississippi River), retaining the best pipework from the previous instruments. A final set of modifications made in 1989-1990 has resulted in the instrument that serves the cathedral today. The organ was one of the best I've ever heard and it was played expertly.

Did anything distract you?

Yes, and it was my own fault. The very lengthy processional hymn ("Alleluia, Sing to Jesus") was split on two opposite pages of the bulletin. I was annoyed at having to go back and forth between pages of the bulletin. Why I didn't grab the hymnal right in front of me, I don't know.

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

Pretty far up the candle. Most of the service was chanted, which I liked. I thought I'd be disappointed by the lack of incense as the thurible didn't produce much smoke during the procession. However, as the procession arrived at the sanctuary, the bishop grabbed the thurible and censed the altar like a man on a mission. The second censing (as we sang the offertory hymn) was likewise carried out with vigor.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes and 6 seconds! This church publishes their sermons on iTunes and I subscribed.

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

7 – I'm sure Bishop Mathes was tired from the exhausting general convention that had just concluded. Still, he delivered a great sermon. A verger led him to the pulpit and he carried no notes with him, nor did he appear to glance down at any notes that may have been left in the pulpit for him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Most of the sermon dealt with the recent general convention. Bishop Mathes was quite animated in his opinions about the convention. He talked about his support for same-sex marriage and the inclusion of same-sex couples in the Episcopal Church.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The procession. I've never seen one like this. Three vergers, two banners, incense, deacon, vested clergy. I've never been able to worship in a church like this. I didn't know beforehand that the bishop would be taking this service, but I'm glad I just happened to attend it!

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

I don't like Eucharistic Prayer C. I'm not sure why it was chosen for this service. Does this church cycle through the Prayer Book and use each setting? I'm not sure. I love reading science fiction, but every time I hear Eucharistic Prayer C, I think of Captain Kirk leading the service.

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

It was quite hot for San Diego and the courtyard where coffee was being served seemed to empty out quickly. However, your Mystery Worshiper had not yet had any coffee that morning and enjoyed the excellent coffee that was served. A member of the congregation engaged me in conversation and we discussed some Episcopal churches in other parts of the United States.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were no signs around the coffee showing that it was fairly traded. However, given the nature of this church, I'd assume it was. The coffee was excellent and your Mystery Worshiper had two cups.

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

10 – If I could afford to live in San Diego, I'd be here every week. Yet, the webpage of the diocese of San Diego shows that San Diego has an abundance of great Episcopal churches.

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

Yes, yes, and yes. I went back to my home church and told everyone about how much I enjoyed the worship service at St Paul's in San Diego.

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

Reading the three page bulletin insert about all of the church's opportunities. Love music? They have a program. Like to read? They have book groups. They also were planning a trip to a baseball game. This church seems to have a ministry for everyone.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools