St Peter's, Kirkwood, MO (Exterior)

St Peter's, Kirkwood, Missouri, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Peter's
Location: Kirkwood, Missouri, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 September 2015, 11:00am

The building

A striking modernist design, built in 1951. It is one of three churches in the St Louis area designed by the architect Joseph Murphy of the St Louis firm Murphy & Mackey, known for their innovative designs. Near the entrance there is a baptismal font that allows for baptism by immersion. The south wall and the semi-circular apse have a series of tall, narrow stained glass windows which, beginning at the rear of the church, are based on the order of the mass, with the climax (the consecration) immediately behind the altar. Like in all three of Murphy's churches, the stained glass was designed by the Emil Frei studio, known for their uniquely stylized cubist/surrealist creations throughout the United States. In the apse is a clerestoried dome, bathing the altar in natural light. Behind the altar, and separated from it by a glass screen, is aother altar with chairs set in front of it; I understand that some weekday masses are celebrated there. Both altars are free-standing. Celebrating at the main altar, the celebrant faces the entrance; celebrating at the altar in the chapel behind the main altar, the celebrant (I assume) faces the apse (presumably more or less east). But in both cases, the celebrant is facing the congregation.

The church

This is a thriving parish of over 1,900 families, founded in 1832. In addition to the standard bereavement, social justice and liturgical ministries, there is an active youth ministry, adult faith formation and Bible study, and a parish athletic association. The bulletin listed parenting classes, a yoga fusion class, tai chi classes, and an upcoming parish bazaar – clearly there is a lot going on here. The parish sponsors a pre-K through grade 8 school. There are five weekend masses and two masses each weekday, in addition to eucharistic adoration each weekday. The Divine Mercy Chaplet, a devotion prayed on Rosary beads and based on visions experienced by St Faustina, is said each Monday evening.

The neighborhood

Kirkwood is a suburb of St Louis, with a population of 27,500. The parish is near the center of downtown Kirkwood, with specialty shops, restaurants, and the Amtrak station to the east, and single-family homes to the west. Kirkwood is home to the headquarters of Shop 'n Save, the grocery store chain; a 12,000 student campus of St Louis Community College; and the Magic House, a children's museum.

The cast

The Revd Eddie Voltz, associate pastor, was principal celebrant and homilist. The Revd Msgr John M. Costello, pastor, concelebrated. They were assisted by the Revd Mr John Komotos, deacon. Mike Bauer and Dan Kuehler were the musicians. There was no service leaflet, so these names were culled from the parish website.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Ninety per cent in a space that I suspect could seat at least 800-900.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Very, as were the pull-down kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, and welcome to St Peter's. We have a couple of announcements."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Breaking Bread, a paperback missalette published by Oregon Catholic Press.

What musical instruments were played?

A baby grand piano and acoustic guitar (both amplified).

Did anything distract you?

I was pleased to see so many families with young children in attendance. Some of these young children had quite a bit of energy – Father Voltz even noted during his sermon, as one young girl (age 6?) was running up and down the aisles, "Isn't she amazing?"

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

A fairly standard North American version of a Catholic mass. A formal liturgy, with a bit of informality at the end: some 40 or so men had been on a retreat since Thursday morning and were all seated together near the front of the church. After communion they turned to the congregation and sang one of the St Louis Jesuits hymns, and then Father Voltz made some informal comments, some of which led to laughter and applause (I didn't catch everything he said). All of the music was of the contemporary Catholic variety, in a popular style.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – Father Voltz is an accomplished public speaker, willing to tackle one of the more challenging gospel passages.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was based on the gospel reading for the day, Mark 9:38-43, 35, 47-48 ("If your hand offends you, cut it off"). He told an anecdote about a young girl who had stolen a candy bar being terrified upon hearing this passage for the first time. She was too young to know the meaning of the word "hyperbole." But we should still take Jesus' message seriously. What are the films we watch? What are the books we read? What music do we listen to? Do they encourage us to act responsibly and morally?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Being in this beautiful and unique space. And I was touched when the woman behind me, noticing that I had no idea where to find the service music, tapped me on the shoulder and showed me the page number in her copy of the missalette.

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

But this same woman used her own gender-neutral substitutions throughout the liturgy, stubbornly refusing to apply the masculine pronouns and adjectives to God. She also expanded the response to "The Lord be with you" to "And with your spirit, Father."

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

No one spoke to me (which no longer surprises me when visiting large parishes). On my way out, I stopped to chat with the pastor and we talked a bit about the two altars. I asked if the church as originally designed had a free-standing altar, and he affirmed that it did, and told an interesting story about the pastor at the time, who was strongly committed to the liturgical movement.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

9 – My only reservation would be: do I want to give up Palestrina and Mozart for the rest of my church-going days? I should note, though, that the guitarist and pianist were both superb players.

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

Indeed it did.

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

The stained-glass, and the way it guided the viewer, with occasional text, and symbols, through the mass.

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