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118: St Martin-in-the-Fields, Canoga Park, California
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St Martin Canoga Park
Mystery Worshipper: Mother Inferior.
The church: St Martin-in-the-Fields, Canoga Park, California.
Denomination: Episcopal Church USA.
The building: Located on a four-acre, mostly concrete campus with a well-established day school on the premises. The church interior is 1950s modestly gothic style in wood. Lots of green wall covering behind the altar with pictorial stained glass windows.
The neighbourhood: The neighborhood is suburban-urban in flux. A once white middle class suburbia with a rapidly growing poorer Latino population. Also adjacent to a Burger King fast food restaurant. A few months ago, LA Police, responding to reports of a mid-morning robbery at the Burger King, briefly detained the rector of the church. Despite the fact that he was wearing a clerical suit and vestments for a just completed church service and shepherding some students to safety, he was apparently deemed suspicious because he is an African American man.
The cast: Rev Ronald D. Culmer.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite II (22nd Sunday after Pentecost).

How full was the building?
Rather sparsely attended. Less than a quarter full, with about 30 mostly older folks scattered about on the ends of aisles. Another dozen children came briefly from Sunday School for communion.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher gave me the bulletin and commented on the "nice day".

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Traditional wooden pews with cushioned seats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived a bit late, but fortunately (for me) the service started about 10 minutes later than scheduled. People were scattered about, some quietly chatting while the pianist played the familiar movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to set the mood.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our opening hymn is number 412, Earth and All Stars."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Current Book of Common Prayer, hymnal and a xeroxed songbook.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?
Yes. A rather loud-voiced, competitive gentleman in the back row who demonstrated his gift for reading the prayers and responses faster than the rest of us.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style varied in an effort at inclusiveness, but was marred by general lack of congregational participation. The priest is a gifted singer. The organ was played with an overwhelming loudness and mostly obscure melody. The music for communal singing varied from traditional Anglican hymns to strained efforts at congregational singing of prayers to a distressingly countrified rendition of Andrae Crouch's "Soon and Very Soon".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Ron stood in the aisle of the church and preached without notes. He began with a free a cappella solo singing of part of a spiritual to set the tone for the rest.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The commandment of our Lord is to love God and to love one another. There was a good balance of expository preaching and exhortation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The spirit of the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well... the palpable disconnection between Father Ron's warm and enthusiastic style and a sparse and distant congregation.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much. People seemed to head for the parking lot pretty quickly. Had I waited for more than a few minutes, I would have been alone in the church. Introducing myself as a visitor in the receiving line only prompted the suggestion that I should fill out a visitor's card.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Absent (or very well-hidden).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I can see great potential in this church and its pastor, but I would have to discern a direct assignment from God to join in the current uphill struggle.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but discouraged by the apparently lukewarm state of things in this church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Sadness for what could be...
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