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22: St Monica, Santa Monica, California
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St Monica's
Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: St Monica Catholic Church, Santa Monica, California.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A Spanish Gothic church, whose design was patterned after the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome. The building has a Roman basilica façade with a Celtic cross adorning its peak, Gothic features such as a rose window above the choir loft, and a Spanish red-tile roof.
The neighbourhood: The church is just north of downtown Santa Monica, at the edge of an upper middle-class neighborhood. Across the road from the church is a park the size of one city block, visited at 8a.m. by a few children climbing the playground equipment, and tens of homeless men and women sleeping or lounging on the grass.
The cast: Fr Doug Glassman.
What was the name of the service?
8a.m. Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
The church is large, and appeared to be over half full. I'm guessing that the worshippers numbered 500.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady, standing behind a table labeled 'welcome', said good morning. A man and woman wearing usher's badges also said good morning as I entered the vestibule.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pews had kneelers and no cushions, and (probably because there are over 5,700 families in the parish) were slightly more closely spaced than I am accustomed to.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was expecting hushed and sleepy reverence at 8a.m. Instead, it felt electric. I could hear the ushers enthusiastically greeting new arrivals in the vestibule, the sound of kneelers popping up and down, and some quiet rustling as worshippers found the correct page in the Missal.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Good morning. Welcome to Santa Monica Parish, and a special welcome to those new or visiting. Let's stand and greet each other so that we may worship as a community.' People all around me shook my hand and introduced themselves.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
'Breaking Bread', an edition of 'Today's Missal 1998' (large print version).

What musical instruments were played?
A huge organ with an excellent trumpet sound. I turned around during the entrance antiphon to see the musicians, and was surprised to see a lone organist. At this hour there was no choir. The congregation was led in the singing of hymns and prayers by a cantor.

Did anything distract you?
A baby close by me started screaming mightily during the second reading.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional, yet friendly and embracing. The priest invited all participants, not just Catholics, to come forward to the altar during communion as a sign of our solidarity. I did, and received a blessing: 'May the Lord bless you and keep you all the days of your life.'

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. Fr Doug has a beautiful speaking voice and excellent diction, and skillfully herded his disparate examples, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the recent murder of Matthew Shepard (a gay young man in Wyoming), to their unifying conclusion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Our relationship with God cannot help but affect our relationship with others – if the one is broken, the other will be also. We can stand at the front of the church with our heads held high, righteous to our toes, but if we have no ability to see or care for God in the broken and marginalized, then we do not have a right relationship with God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of communion, when the cantor and the organist sang a luminous 'Ave Maria' plainsong.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was an announcement that those who wanted to join the parish, return to the Catholic Church, or find out more about St Monica's, should see the hospitality ministers at the welcome table. So I did. A nice but somewhat un-chatty woman handed me a bunch of pamphlets, and gave me directions to the coffee service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Ehhhh... but it was hot and only cost 50 cents. They also had plates and plates (and plates and plates) of donuts. Apple juice, orange juice and milk were also available. I met a wonderful woman who asked me to come sit and chat with her and her friends. I found out that Fr Doug rode a Harley, had attended Harvard Divinity School, and was a really great priest.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. Only my Protestant leanings kept me from signing on the dotted line.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I have never been made to feel more welcome in a new church than at St Monica's.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I am often moved to tears during worship services, so I found it gratifying that St Monica, the mother of St Augustine, is known for having cried buckets over her son (prior to his conversion).
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