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58: St Joseph's Catholic Church, Jacksonville, Florida
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Joseph Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Sunbeam for God.
The church: St Joseph's Catholic Church, Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: 'Contemporary Spanish-Mediterranean', with muted tones (except for a burnished copper dome which really really stands out), and a rather spartan interior that doesn't look like any Catholic church I've ever seen.
The neighbourhood: St Joe's is located at the intersections of Old St Augustine, Loretto, Greenland, and Hood Landing roads, aka 'Catholic Corners'. The newest church is located on the southwest corner, the two older churches are on the southeast corner, the school and its chapel are on the northeast corner, and the diocesan offices are on the northwest corner. Can't remember the last time there was an accident there, either...
The cast: The Most Reverend John J. Snyder, Bishop of the Diocese of St Augustine.
What was the name of the service?
The Solemn Rite of Dedication. They were officially opening the church up for business, though they'd been conducting services there for a few weeks prior.

How full was the building?
Very full, nearly packed to the rafters. The building seats 2,200, and I imagine there were at least 2,000 there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed twice, as we had to empty the church before the dedication. As we were standing outside the church waiting for the bishop, I had a friendly chat with the people around me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very. It was cushioned and very new, which probably made the difference.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The crowd was obviously excited. This church has been four years in the making. Combine that with a temperature soaring to 90F (32C, I think) and 2,000 people crammed into a courtyard waiting to get back into the church. There was no way it could be quiet or reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'The grace and peace of God be with all of you in this holy church.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
'Breaking Bread', which I guess is a contemporary version of 'Today's Missal', and the service program.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, guitar, drums, flute, trumpet and timpani.

Did anything distract you?
The humidity (don't think the cooling system was working quite right), the screaming babies whose parents refused to take them to the cry room, and the smell of the barbecue drifting inside towards the last part of the service (I'd had no breakfast or lunch, and the service didn't start till noon!).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Charismatic Catholic. The music was contemporary, though dressed up with the organ, trumpets, and timpani. The congregation was using hand gestures during the responses, which always throws me, and very few made the signs of the cross (head, lips, heart) at the Gospel reading.

St Joseph Florida

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9. I've always enjoyed and learned from the bishop's sermons, and this time was no exception.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The church isn't the building, it's the communion of saints, and it's where we go to hear the Word proclaimed, get a sense of values and direction, and the strength to take it to the world.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were three, actually. The trumpets and the timpani as we were entering the church – a majestic sound, to say the least. Also the lone tenor singing the 'Alleluia' before the Gospel, being echoed by the trumpets. And the sacristans dressing the altar once it had been anointed (such a contrast to Maundy Thursday!). Hmm... now that I think about it, maybe four. There was also a spiritual bridge to Christianity's roots – the president of the local clergy assocation, Rabbi Gary Perras, reminded us what it means to belong to a church by quoting the Old Testament: 'And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.' I felt God among these people who had gathered in his name.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, it lasted three hours, for starters. Oh, and the humidity inside the building.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was impossible to look lost, as I couldn't extricate myself from the surge towards the spread (more below). I don't think it would have mattered, anyway, because I've always found St Joe's to be a very friendly parish.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, no coffee (way too hot!), but there were all kinds of food. Barbecue, sandwiches, cookies, doughnuts, every kind of snack you could think of. And they had lots of bottled water, too, a plus in 90 degree weather.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. Well, I'm not Catholic, for one thing, and I just can't handle the contemporary music, as I'm very much grounded in the traditional stuff. The building itself is stunning, though, and I would just love to get married at that altar. I wonder if they'd let an Anglican do that...

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. The symbolism and the rituals always strike very deep chords in me. The traditions of the church are living testimonies to its history, and that is what connects us to Christ's life on earth. They remind me that my faith is more than just a personal one; it's something I share with all believers, past, present and future. The church transcends time and space to unite all of us with God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Walking into the church (to the trumpets and timpani!) and seeing the eight-foot statue of the risen Christ above the altar. It actually looks as though he's in motion. Stunning.

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