Mystery Worshipper: Ave Maria
Church: St Paul's Within the Walls
Location: Rome, Italy
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 May 2007, 11:00am
Dating from 1873, this is the first non-Roman Catholic church to be built within the walls of Rome. In addition to its mission as a Christian church, it is responsible for overseeing a remarkable collection of art. The exterior is something you might easily pass by without notice. However, once inside, the visitor is awestruck by the apse mosaics of George Breck and Edward Burne-Jones, tiles by William Morris, stained glass by the English firm Clayton and Bell, and other such treasures. Their website features a detailed discussion of each artist and his contributions.
St Paul's first rector wrote of the church that it was destined to be "a solemn witness, in this papal city, of a faith which is Catholic without being papal, and Protestant without ceasing to be Catholic." The community of St Paul's is made up of people of many different nationalities, all influenced by different traditions. They sponsor several hospitality and outreach ministries, including a Latin American ministry and a refugee center.
St Paul's is located close to the Termini train station as well as some high priced hotels. If you want a good pre-service coffee, try Flann O'Briens bar, across the street.
The celebrant was the Rt Revd John Flack, director of the Anglican Centre and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See. The preacher was His Excellency Mr Charles Agyei-Amoama, ambassador from Ghana to Italy. Also participating was Mr Ben Oduwole, president of the congregation.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist, Day of Pentecost and Africa Day
How full was the building?
Packed to the rafters.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy with crying babies, excited children, people gossiping and choir doing some last minute practicing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We welcome all to this wonderful celebration where we bring together many different groups for this service of Pentecost as well as many different languages." This was a special event, with guests from Africa, England and Switzerland as well as Italy. The procession in African dress entered in silence, after which the cantor began to chant Veni Creator Spiritus in Latin.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1982 Hymnal; Book of Common Prayer; service leaflets.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, several guitars, tambourines, Peruvian wooden flute, bongos, plus several African drums, including one I'd never seen (a large metal cone).
Did anything distract you?
The noise. The late start. Also, every time a new procession or "delegation" had a performance, it took about five minutes to set it up.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely happy clappy – lots of clapping during most songs, as well as some dance type movements. The choir was very enthusiastic. A Peruvian group sang the Lord's Prayer in Spanish to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence". By contrast, the organist tried to maintain a serious Anglican mode with a Bach prelude and postlude.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes, although the congregation president took longer than that to introduce our preacher, the Ghanaian ambassador, Agyei-Amoamat.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The ambassador's style was very formal. As an example, at one point he said, "Let us eschew violence and let dialogue be our portion." Very King James!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ambassador welcomed everyone to the church and talked about what could be done for the immigrant community by the Italian government as well as by the church. He expressed pride in Africa as a continent and said he was hopeful about its future. He mentioned that whereas only a generation or so ago the world sent missionaries to Africa, Africa now sends missionaries out to the world! He asked that people in authority pursue the cause of humanity and seek peaceful solutions to Africa's liberation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The artwork in the church. Also the African choir was very enthusiastic and colorful with clapping, dancing, etc.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At times there was so much noise one could not hear anything. The kids were hyped up, too. The Gospel was read simultaneously in 10 languages, which was inspiring but also very confusing!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely nothing! I tried to buy postcards, but was told to wait until later, when a stand would be set up (it never was). We were told that refreshments would be served in the crypt and so I went down there, but no one spoke to me there either. The only time anyone ever spoke was during the peace, and that was only to say "Peace be with you."
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was overbrewed. Brand unknown. Tea the same. All served in plastic cups. Milk was also available. Someone announced that African goodies would be forthcoming but they never materialised. I saw some plates of what looked like crisps or potato chips, pretzels and cheese puffs, as well as fruit baskets, fried chicken and some kind of pastries. But people seemed to have staked out their own picnic tables and this food was not offered to the general public.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I am not sure what it would be like on an average Sunday, but I don't think I could handle the noise and confusion on a regular basis.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, mainly because of the diversity. I'm not sure that many Anglican churches could pull together so many races for any kind of event.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Peruvian choir singing the Lord's Prayer to "Sound of Silence".