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218: St Mary's (Mariposa Street), Los Angeles, California
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St Mary's, Los Angeles
Mystery Worshipper: Morpharama.
The church: St Mary's (Mariposa Street), Los Angeles, California.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The church is a tradition cruciform building with beige stucco and the omnipresent terra cotta tiled roof. There are a number of stained glass windows, the lower of which were added years after the church was originally built. The entire church and parking lot is enclosed by a combination of steel fences and stucco-over-cement wall.
The neighbourhood: St Mary's is located in the heart of old Koreatown in Los Angeles. Koreatown is an area with high crime rates and gang activity, hence the fence around the church. St Mary's is historically a Japanese American church. Prior to World War II, Koreatown was known as Japantown, and its inhabitants were primarily Japanese immigrants. St Mary's was the departure point for downtown Japanese Americans during the internment years of the war. Since many lost their property and businesses during the internment, Japantown became Koreatown. Today, with the affluent Korean Americans living mostly in the suburbs, Koreatown is mainly populated by immigrants from El Salvador. So we have a Japanese church in the middle of Koreatown, where mostly Salvadorans live!
The cast: The celebrant was Rev. H. Alix Evans, assistant rector. Assisting were Rev. Patricia Greig Bennet, interim rector, and Rev. Jim Shiode, deacon assisting.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite II.

How full was the building?
There were no more than 25 in the pews, a choir of eight, three clergy, two altar servers, an organist and an usher.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher handed me a bulletin with a smile but didn't really talk. I exchanged handshakes with two other worshippers during the peace. Most everyone seemed very isolated. Even among what appeared to be family units, the individuals acted like they all came separately.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was wooden, not particularly ergonomic, and being a tall person I did have enough legroom, which can make or break a church experience.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were mostly quiet – and for a good reason, which I found out later. It reminded me of a Roman Catholic church where everyone acts like they don't want to be seen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The processional hymn is number 427."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pew was The Book of Common Prayer 1979 and The Hymnal 1982. The bulletin came inside a worship booklet that had the entire service printed on it, presumably to make the daunting task of juggling the books a bit easier on visitors.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano. The psalm was chanted by a choir member whose voice had a particularly beautiful timbre.

Did anything distract you?
The biggest distraction was the number of late arrivals. Several people came in as late as during the sermon. Another distraction was the uncoordinated altar party. The servers didn't always know what they were supposed to be doing, and the clergy had to prompt them often.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As mentioned earlier, the service was rather somber. At the announcements it was mentioned that the church's former organist and choirmaster had died that morning, hence the mood. The gentleman had held the post for 37 years and was known to all.

St Mary's, Los Angeles

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – the preacher was reading the sermon rather than preaching it, and it showed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Everyone is a neighbor. Even the people that don't look like us, dress, think or act like us – everyone is a neighbor and must be treated with love, as Jesus commanded.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a moment during the the prayers of the people in which the names of the departed are said. During the moment, perhaps because of the very present loss of the beloved choirmaster, there was an almost tangible sense of grace. I could really feel the emotion of the mourning parish.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, Los Angeles is hot in September! The church is not air-conditioned and I was sweating like a sinner in... er... the other place. It made for an uncomfortable experience, and my mind was often drawn to my condition and away from the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone filed out through the east patio and into the parish hall. On the way, the clergy stood and greeted everyone as they walked by. I shook hands with each of the clergy. I was also greeted by the woman serving coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, hot tea, two fruit juices, plain and raisin bagels with cream cheese, an assortment of cookies and watermelon. Quite a nice spread in my experience. The coffee was very hot and very good, and the bagels were something I don't usually see at coffee hour.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I was really amazed by this church. The Episcopal Church in the USA is something like 97 per cent caucasian, and yet here was a predominantly Asian church with a number of caucasian, Central American, and African American members. This is not something you can see in other parts of the country.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service, though not especially remarkable, had an honest quality about it. It was as if the parish was saying, "Here we are, successes and failures, triumphs and defeats, all on our sleeve." I liked the fact that I came away feeling that they didn't try to hide their problems. In that sense, yes, it made me glad to be a Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The celebrant was caucasian, the preacher was African American, and the deacon was Japanese American. There must be so much history in that arrangement.

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