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148: All Saints, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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All Saints, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Judith.
The church: All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Plain 1950s beige plaster outside but refreshingly airy and attractive inside. Blond wood pews, a huge painted cross hung over the altar, and the Lord's Prayer inscribed around the walls beneath small but lovely stained glass windows.
The neighbourhood: Rippling canal, rustling palm trees, lush greenery, and massive waterfront villas with boats parked out back. Cute little signs identified the neighborhood as "Colee Hammock." First Presbyterian Church is right next door and the nearest main street is lined with elegant restaurants and shops selling things most people can't afford.
The cast: Rev. Sherrod E. Mallow.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite II, 8.00am.

How full was the building?
It seemed thinly populated but that was because it's large; in fact there were 40 or 50 worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher said hello as he handed me a program.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, quite.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A kind of busy silence. The church is very live acoustically, so every sniffle, fidget and rustled program reverberated through the sanctuary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God..." (the first words of Rite II).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
1979 Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
None, unless you count bells.

Did anything distract you?
Bells. Bells were rung during the consecration. Because of the unusually bright acoustics they sounded shrill and intrusive, especially given the otherwise low-key nature of the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style was casual and relaxed, in a slightly disorganized, sandals-under-robes kind of way.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
Delivery: 4. Content: 8. Relevance to subsequent events: 10. The rector acted as if he'd only just then realized he might have to give a sermon, and occasionally seemed to pause to think of something new to say. It was pretty disjointed, beginning with an aside that Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, was married, and then moving on to a discussion of Jesus's actions in the Gospel reading.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Miracles, while impressive, are merely signs of God's love. We must look through them, as through a window, to their true message, which is that God never gives up on us and is always present and loving.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was all pretty terrestrial, though kneeling to receive the sacraments was pleasantly elevating.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have to hang around. An announcement during the service invited everyone for coffee in the parish hall, so that's where I went.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and tea, cut-up doughnuts and other sweet pastries. I didn't try the coffee, but the American-grown tea was just fine. Everybody got refreshments and then sat down at long tables to chat.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Hard to say, I'd need more exposure. Maybe 7 or 8. Although I am a person of mature years, I'd be one of the younger members at the 8.00am service anyway. The church is in Florida, a.k.a. "God's Waiting Room." I attend an annual event in the area, and when I mentioned at coffee that I'd be back next year, someone said, "you can remind us who you are, if we're still here."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I always am, but yes, it sure did, especially given what happened immediately afterwards. I went back to my hotel, checked out, and decided to take a walk around the church neighborhood. I had a couple of hours and the area was, as noted, very attractive. As I crossed the street a sudden breath of wind blew my itinerary and tickets out of my jacket pocket. As I was stuffing my ticket back into its envelope I realized that my flight actually left in less than an hour. So I dashed back to the car, raced to the airport, and made the plane with 15 minutes to spare. Okay, so maybe this is not a major water-into-wine-type miracle. But it sure improved my day, let me tell you.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The relief and gratitude I felt on realizing that although I had been horribly mistaken about the schedule, I would still be able to make the plane.
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