Mystery Worshipper: The Shy Soprano
Church: Trinity Cathedral
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 7:00pm
A large, grey stone building with three big red doors out front. As far as I know, they're rarely opened. Inside, the church is warm, with dark woods and amazing acoustics, accented with several icons.
The cathedral supports many ministries. The widest known is the Center for Spiritual Development, which gives classes on spirituality and hosts lectures by many widely known authors and spiritual leaders.
The cathedral is just a few blocks the Pearl District, a trendy area of town catering to the cappuccino and Saab crowd. It's also close to PGE Park, home of the Portland Beavers minor leauge baseball team. The immediate neighborhood is mostly apartments.
The Very Rev. William Lupfer, Celebrant; The Rev. Canon Marianne Wells Borg, Preacher; The Rev. Valerie Ivey and The Rev. Maureen Hagen, Deacons.
What was the name of the service?Ash Wednesday, featuring Fauré's Requiem
How full was the building?
About three-quarters full at the beginning, half full after the Imposition of the ashes, and quarter full after the eucharist. In the beginning, I'd say there were probably 300 people, not including the choir and orchestra.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman smiled at me as I was picking up a bulletin. That's about it, although I did sneak in by a door close to the nave.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was okay, although I kept ruching up the padding with my wiggling.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The harpist was tuning and people were chatting softly... except for one couple seated behind me. From their conversation, both of them were there more for the music offerings than the spiritual ones.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins." This came after a stately processing of the choir and clergy and the Introit and Kyrie. The Introit and Kyrie did not begin until the choir was completely arranged, so I'd say the first spoken words weren't until almost 15 minutes after the processional cross passed the threshold of the sanctuary.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The good old 1982 Hymnal for one hymn, leaflet for responses and translations of the Latin anthems.
What musical instruments were played?
Full string orchestra. They were behind a screen, though, so I could only see a harpist, three violinists, a cellist, and a double bass player.
Did anything distract you?
Yes. Unfortunately, most of the distractions were probably of my own making. Due to the performance focus of the liturgy, there was little for me to do but sit back and enjoy the music. That got old after about 15 minutes, and my ADD kicked in. I was writing letters to friends for later, having inappropriate giggle fits and attempting to cough up a lung while debating what the strange, screened niches high on the wall between each of the stained glass windows were for.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff upper lip, what with the Latin and the choir and the orchestra.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Liturgy is a door through which Something Else can enter. I got the impression that the sermon was aimed mostly at those who were just visiting for the music performance and had little familiarity with Christianity and the season of Lent.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Every time the choir sang. It was transcendent, and they managed to fill the building with resonating sound.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The liturgy felt a little tacked on to the musical performance, like someone tried to wedge the two together with a shoehorn and it didn't quite mesh. For example, after the breaking of the bread, the choir sang Agnus Dei. The poor celebrant was stuck behind the altar as they sang the song for a good three minutes, and then he got to say "The gifts of God for the people of God." The entire service lasted for two hours, with plenty of silent times where singing and liturgical action could have co-existed. For a service on a school night, even a special performance, it was too long.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was essentially herded outside by the rest of my fellow worshippers. The clergy were lined up in an arc effectively blocking off the rest of the cathedral grounds and shuttling us towards the parking lot. I had a long commute in front of me, so I followed the crowd and went home.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee was provided. I could have used it for the drive home.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The music was wonderful, and I know from other visits their choir is superb all year round. However, the large size of the cathedral seems to me to provide more anonymity than I appreciate. I didn't find out an acquaintance was at the same service until we talked on Friday at work.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Definitely. No matter how much I complain about the length of the service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The celebrant looking almost bored during the Agnus Dei, and the soloist during the Pie Jesu.