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143: St John's, Tampa, Florida
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St John's, Tampa, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Judith Manasses.
The church: St John's, Tampa, Florida.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Plain, stolid, yellow brick outside, neo-traditional inside, with lovely mid-20th-century stained glass windows.
The neighbourhood: Big, old, well-kept houses with tidy gardens – an obviously well-to-do community.
The cast: Rev. Sandra K. Moyle read the meditations on baptism. I presume that Rev. John R. Peterson, the rector, presided.
What was the name of the service?
Baptism and Holy Communion, Rite II.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. There were plenty of seats, but no pew in the nave was entirely empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher greeted me as he handed out the bulletins, but otherwise, just a smile here and there. We are Episcopalians, you know.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, quite comfy, even though it was uncushioned bare wood.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly silent, with a few whispered exchanges here and there.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1972 Hymnal and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. No surprises here.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The "sermon" interrupted the flow of the service, which I found a bit disconcerting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
By-the-book traditional Episcopalian of the Rite II persuasion. That is, totally straightforward. The congregation knelt for the consecration, which is somewhat old-fashioned, but in a good way.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
To my consternation (I had brought a watch with a second hand) there was no sermon! Instead, short readings about the sacrament of baptism kept popping up at key points. For example, just before the priest poured water into the font, we heard a discussion of hydrologic symbolism and the early church practice of total immersion.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9. The various snippets were interesting and well-organized, but didn't quite fill the gap left by the absence of an organized sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Baptism is an ancient tradition that binds us into a Christian family.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The girls' choir sounded positively angelic!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing even faintly hellish about it, though they used an unsingable gloria that bordered on the purgatorial.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After I shook hands at the door, nobody came up to me, though some looked at me with interest. There were two good reasons for this: first, the coffee hour is between services, so there wasn't an after-service open gathering; and second, I had to catch an airplane two hours later and I probably looked a bit shifty and nervous. Which I was.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Alas, no coffee after the late service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. My only concern is that the congregation seemed, well, monochromatic. I'm used to a wider mix of people.

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 investiture of the three new girls' choir members, who seemed self-conscious but very pleased.
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