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206: St Eugene, Asheville, North Carolina, USA
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St Eugene, Asheville, North Carolina
Mystery Worshipper: Sister Mary Callingcard.
The church: St Eugene, Asheville, North Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Auditorium style chapel-in-the-round, of a very modern style for the time of its construction (the 50s). The altar is against the wall in classic early-Christianity style, but a simple table just in front of the congregation, covered with seasonal green, was used for the eucharist. The decor is simple, all of a light wood, including a statue of both St Joseph and the Mother of God mounted on the wall at either side, and just beneath a Christus Rex.
The neighbourhood: Suburban Asheville, close to the main thoroughfare of Route 25, but away from and above the traffic. Although the immediate residential area is modest, gracious homes are not too far away.
The cast: The Rev. Father Francis T. Cranco.
What was the name of the service?
The 11.00am Holy Eucharist for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary time (also known as Pentecost XVII in the Anglican Communion).

How full was the building?
Absolutely packed to capacity. Approximately 400 parishioners and visitors (plus one Mystery Worshipper).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not directly, although when a group started to enter my pew before Mass, the first to slide in very nicely told me that there were "five of us", and then thanked me appreciatively after I slid all the way down to the next section so that they could all fit. I also received a smile from a young teenaged girl who squeezed my hand at the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer (we were directed by Father Cranco to join hands at its commencement) and also from her mother (probably) who offered to share her hymnal as there wasn't one for each person.

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite. It was simple light wood with black wrought iron hardware, but was put together at a comfortable angle. Unfortunately, when I had to slide down to accommodate "the party of five", I got perched at the break in the kneelers, and had to straddle the first and second kneelers with one leg on each throughout the kneeling segments of the Mass.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived about 10 minutes before 11.00, so there was still a choice of seats, but for about 275 people already in their places, the atmosphere was quiet and prayerful, with silent greetings of smiles and waves only.

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?
A paperback volume titled "Celebrating the Eucharist", which contained the propers. Also a hymnal titled "Gathering".

What musical instruments were played?
Piano and drums.

Did anything distract you?
Nothing was really disruptive, with the exception of a whimpering infant or two, but this distraction was not sustained. The parent would retreat with the child to the glassed in "infant room" shortly after the serenade began. This room afforded a full view of the altar with speakers inside which enable families to come to Mass and participate as a family without having to place babies in a nursery.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Joyous but moderate in style. The piano playing was bright but subdued and the drums, used to support the pianist's rhythm only, were not intrusive. The Gospel, however, was unique! Instead of the words being read by the celebrant or a deacon, Father Cranco instructed us to remain seated. At that moment, about 15 men, women and children entered from various doors at the rear of the building dressed in typical garb of 1st century Palestine, and walked down to the chancel area talking with each other and beginning to sing about not having enough food. One man addressed another in song as "Jesus", and implored him to send them away to their homes. The character playing Jesus, a young slim man with a pleasant voice began to sing about having the multitude sit and they would be fed. Other characters sang phrases of disbelief, but a basket of bread and fish were brought up by a young boy of about 7 or 8 and presented. The celebrant donned a garment during this time and remained as one of the multitude throughout the performance, which lasted about 6 or 7 minutes. The performers then walked through the congregation encouraging everyone to sing the refrain we had practiced prior to the start of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10. Father Cranco had shed his Palestinian garment during the sing-along and now stood at the lectern in his chasuble with the Gospel Book and read the last few verses of John 6:1-15. After he was finished, he stepped away from the lectern and asked the small boy who had presented the loaves and fishes if he could borrow his basket. The boy brought the basket up, and Father Cranco, thanking him, proceeded to use the basket as a prop for his sermon, which was delivered from the chancel steps and down into the center aisle without benefit of notes, in a style which encouraged attentiveness.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Beginning with an explanation about the barley loaves and the dried fish being "third class" quality for the common folk of Palestine, the theme was developed into a message of Jesus being the food sufficient for all, and that John had included the passage of twelve baskets remaining, to emphasize that there is an abundance of this food to nourish all of our needs.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The intangible sense of joy and unity of all of the participants, including the congregation. This was definitely an interactive eucharist!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Only the birthday and anniversary list preceding the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the close of the service, Father Cranco thanked everyone for allowing him to participate in their worship and stated that the "After Mass Hospitality" had been suspended for some months, but with no explanation as to why. There was also a reference to new construction about to begin, and the "regulars" seemed to understand all this, so maybe what had been used for after church coffee was being used for something else? At any rate, he asked that we nourish each other spiritually as we departed, and I did receive several warm smiles as I left along with everyone else for our cars.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7. I am not Roman Catholic, but if I were, I would definitely consider St Eugene. I would try the 5:30 Saturday Vigil Eucharist to see if it might possibly be less crowded, which would allow me to concentrate more on the consecration, etc.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
On the way out, I noticed a structure for the sacrament of reconciliation. Posted above a small light was a typed notice that read, "If this light is lit, Father is with someone. Please wait!" Probably the most tactful way to tell someone not to enter, but to please wait his or her turn as penitent. In a parish of obviously considerable size, I found this notice to be not only humorous, but with a touch of whimsy as well!
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