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30: San Miguel Mission, Socorro,
New Mexico
Other reports | Comment on this report
San Miguel
Mystery Worshipper: Alias.
The church: San Miguel Mission, Socorro, New Mexico.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Two Franciscan friars, who were part of an expedition of Spanish conquistadores, built a small chapel on this site in 1598, making this one of the oldest churches in the United States. The present church is a handsome Spanish adobe building, built in 1612. Its nine-foot thick adobe walls and carved wooden vigas and corbels date back to the original structure. A communion rail was constructed from solid silver mined in the nearby mountains. In 1680, an uprising among the Pueblo Indians in the north and the Apaches in the south threatened the village. The Spanish settlers and the friendly local Piros Indians fled south, but not before burying the silver communion rail and gold church vessels. The priest supposedly made a detailed map of the burial site, but no one has yet uncovered the treasure.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated at the center of the village of Socorro, surrounded by crumbling adobe buildings, an aceqia (irrigation ditch) and a couple of barren lots.
The cast: Fr. Bill Sanchez – a new priest to the parish.
What was the name of the service?
12:00 Mass (on the 1st Sunday of Advent).

How full was the building?
Filled just about to capacity – around 200 people I would guess.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Most parishioners seemed fairly reserved.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. All the pews appeared to be fairly new, with padded seats and kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some problems with the electric amplification system resulted in several episodes of ear-splitting audio feedback. 'Ear-splitting' may be an understatement. I mean, it was REALLY loud – near the threshold of pain. Other than that it was pretty quiet. A group of women were reciting the Hail Mary as I walked in. There were several infants who began crying after the feedback incidents, but overall they were well behaved.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'To you, God, I will lift up my soul. I trust in you. Never let me come unto shame.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Paperback missals and hymnals were provided in the pews, but no one appeared to be using them.

What musical instruments were played?
Three acoustic guitars.

Did anything distract you?
During the reading of the lessons, the electricity in the building cut out several times. That, along with the pre-service PA problems were the only significant distractions.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was an air of reverence and propriety, but the music definitely lightened things up. The spoken portions of the liturgy – as well as the sermon – were given in English, but all of the hymns and responsorials were in Spanish. Leading the music were three guitarists and a mariachi choir. I often had the feeling I had been dropped into an old Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western film. This type of worship is fairly common in New Mexico, especially in the villages, and I rather enjoyed it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. His sermon was short, easy to comprehend, and to the point. Made for the American attention span.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Being prepared to serve others in their time of need.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the mariachi chorus and guitarists was definitely inspiring.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The audio difficulties mentioned earlier were hard to endure. I'm surprised I haven't suffered any permanent hearing loss.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone made straight for the door. I joined the herd and was swept away.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there was any, I wasn't notified.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. I'm not Roman Catholic, so I wouldn't attend this church exclusively, but I am considering adding it as a supplement. The only Anglican church in town has an average weekly attendance of about 10, and the vicar is not an impressive preacher.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
With the exception of the music, the whole service seemed to be a little rushed and insincere. I have mixed feelings.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The church has stained-glass windows set high on the walls, but it was an uncharacteristically cloudy day, and when the electricity went out we were in darkness. One of the power outages occurred at the exact moment the lector was reading 'and I will cast off the darkness and put on the armor of light...' or something to that effect.
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