|133: St Paul's, K Street, Washington DC, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Rev. Seth Wordsworth Little.
The church: St Paul's, K Street, Washington DC, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Unassuming, smallish, unfinished but beautiful late Gothic Revival church, with all the appointments expected of a traditional Anglo-Catholic parish church. It was designed by Philip Hubert Frohman, the principal architect of Washington National Cathedral.
The neighbourhood: Near George Washington University and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station, just west of Washington Circle. The neighborhood is a nice mix of urban civility, good restaurants, apartment houses and single family townhouses within walking distance of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The cast: The Rev. Andrew Sloane, Rector, was the celebrant. The Rev. Canon John Andrew, OBE, DD, Rector Emeritus of St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, and currently priest-in-charge of Grace Church Broadway, New York, was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Requiem Mass for the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, within the octave of All Saints Day.
How full was the building?
Standing room only, about 450 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Ushers at the door were gracious without being gushy. Just right.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical church pew, nothing to note one way or the other.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very reverent and devout for the most part. The large crowd gathering early, including some visitors who were obviously not regular churchgoers, created more noise than usual at St Paul's before services.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The choir sang the Requiem Aeternum and Kyrie. The celebrant then chanted, "The Lord be with you" before the Collect of the Day. The first words actually spoken were from the lector, who read the first lesson.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Order of Service, including the text of the ordinary in Latin with English translation. The hymns were printed in a very attractive booklet format, together with some information on Mozart's Requiem.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and full orchestra (to accompany the Requiem).
Did anything distract you?
After the final hymn, some well meaning visitors began to applaud, to the obvious chagrin of the parishioners and others who understood that this was not a performance.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very eloquent and comfortable, according to the rubrics of traditional Anglo-Catholic worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10. One of the very best the Episcopal Church has to offer. The sermon was direct, eloquent and appealing at the same time, and mercifully free from the trivial and personal.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Death why we are afraid of it, and why we need not be if we believe what Jesus himself said in the scriptures.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
All of it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The well-meaning but inappropriate applause at the conclusion of the Requiem Mass.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We met many old and new friends in a joyful gathering. The clergy and people of St Paul's seem to take great pride in seeking out visitors, greeting them, engaging them, and inviting them to hospitality, without appearing to be desparate in their attempts to get something out of them.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a lovely brunch prepared for those who had made reservations. Having been to St Paul's before, I know they have good hospitality following Sunday Mass.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. If I lived in Washington, it would be my home parish. In fact, I am a "friend" of the parish, a category they have established for those who live away from the city but who want to be associated with the parish.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It confirmed many lingering doubts since my last visit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
In the pew in front of me was a father and a little girl (I later learned that the mother was in the choir). This little girl of about 8 or 9 was following the Latin of the Mass under her father's loving watch.