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117: The Cathedral of Saint Paul, San Diego, California
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St Paul, San Diego
Mystery Worshipper: Eagle Eye.
The church: The Cathedral of Saint Paul, San Diego, California.
Denomination: Episcopal Church USA.
The building: According to the Dean, it is an unfinished Gothic revival, but the tiled roof and stucco exterior make it a Spanish Gothic revival as could be found only in Southern California. Those interested can take a tour on the Cathedral website.
The neighbourhood: The official address of the cathedral puts it directly across the street from Balboa Park, a well maintained city park lined with tall palm trees and carpeted with beautiful lawns. Balboa Park was the site of the 1915 World's Fair and the city has maintained the buildings as a home to a number of museums and the famous San Diego Zoo (well removed from the church). The church occupies the entire block from 5th to 6th Avenues and the main entrance is from the far less prestigious 5th Avenue side. It is not a bad neighborhood, but mostly businesses, professional offices, restaurants, etc.
The cast: The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev John B. Chane, assisted by Rev Canon Lee B. Teed, Rev Canon Kenneth Treat, and a vast panoply of minor functionaries (16 listed in the bulletin), including an interpreter for the deaf.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist: Rite II.

How full was the building?
There were about 200 there in a building which would probably seat 500-600. However, the congregation spread itself around enough to make it seem nicely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, although the usher handing us our bulletin was distracted by speaking with another person entering at the same time.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard issue church pew. It was not cushioned, but fairly comfortable nevertheless.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with a few whispered greetings. Soft organ music muffled the sound.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The glide path to the San Diego airport is nearby and there was the occasional thunder of an incoming aircraft – but once you heard it once or twice, it was not distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip. There was lots of incense and the entire service (except the lessons, sermon, announcements and prayers) was sung or chanted. The congregation is obviously used to this and chanted the Creed and Lord's Prayer with gusto.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
29 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
The Dean's delivery, use of the language and occasional humor was superb. I'd give him a 7, but the only thing holding him back from a higher rating was the content of the sermon, which was more an address than an exposition of scripture.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was a recitation of the history of the parish from its founding in the 1850s to the present. It painted a picture of a vibrant, involved congregation which is seen as the leading congregation in the community. It was interesting to learn that the parish was founded by the accident of the Bishop's ship running aground in San Diego Bay on his way up the coast.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The lady doing the interpretation for the deaf stood to one side in the front, and the graceful poetry of her motion as she signed the words of the prayer of consecration was wonderful to behold. When she signed the part where the priest says "... joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name..." it was as if she was silently giving praise more eloquent and powerful than any music.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance for that to happen. Visitors are repeatedly asked to stay for coffee and there are a couple of volunteers who make it their business to single out newcomers and invite them to stay.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was coffee, sweet breads, cookies, punch and sliced apples and grapes served on a patio at the back of the cathedral overlooking Balboa Park. All visitors were given a ceramic coffee mug emblazoned with the seal of the cathedral and encouraged to leave their postal and email addresses to get additional information about the cathedral. The palm trees were gently swaying in the sunny breeze. In short, it was a lot better than a lukewarm cup of coffee in a musty church basement.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10, without a doubt. Someone is doing something right here, and it shows.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The woman interpreting for the deaf.
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