|347: St Aidan's, Des Moines, Iowa|
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Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: St Aidan's, Des Moines, Iowa.
Denomination: Anglican Church in America.
The building: St Aidan's is tiny, prefabricated worship construction on a well-tended lot, with mock-Tudor exterior. The interior is fully catholic in style with a candle-decked sanctuary complete with a tabernacle on the high altar, a bishop's throne with a handily-positioned crozier and a sizeable brass crucifix. There are also shrines to Our Lady and Saint Aidan.
The church: I have to assume that the congregation is made up primarily of disenfranchised Epsicopalians. The "big clue" is contained in a statement on the back page of the Order of Service: "St Aidan's... stands in the unbroken continuity of the Apostolic Faith and Order given by Jesus Christ to His Church. Our faith is based on the Word of God found in Holy Scripture, and on the Ecumenical Councils held by the whole Christian Church in the days before any divisions took place. We have not changed these essentials to conform with modern liberalizing trends... Our services continue the liturgy of the historic 1928 Book of Common Prayer."
The neighbourhood: The setting is middle-class suburbia close by a substantial shopping area which houses one of Des Moines' largest shopping malls.
The cast: Rev. Fr. Waldemar Labusga, celebrant. Paul Myers, reader and server.
What was the name of the service?
Mattins, Holy Eucharist and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full, probably around 40 in a church which may hold 60.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted with a softly spoken "good morning". About half the congregation were in place in silent prayer. A louder greeting would have disturbed the atmosphere.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The reverential silence was wonderful and really made one conscious of a divine presence.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, 1928. The Hymnal, 1940.
What musical instruments were played?
Small electronic organ.
Did anything distract you?
The white running shoes of the server were a terrible distraction for me, particularly since he was wearing a black cassock and a lacey cotta.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was an exceedingly traditional and liturgically "correct" celebration of the mass. It was quite beautiful and apart from some very brief parish notices allowed one to focus one's mind and soul on the worship at all times.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Fr. Labusga has a very strong Hispanic accent, lovely to listen to, but requiring close attention.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher gave us a brief history of the feast of Corpus Christi. We learned that it was first celebrated in 1247 in Liege, Belgium. He described early processions which involved four stations and included the benediction of the blessed sacrament. After telling us that the monstrance was the centre of attraction on these occasions, he asked us if Christ's presence was at the centre of our daily lives.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The reverence and undistractable devotion of this congregation through every aspect of worship gave the kind of focus rarely to be found in any church. We were as one kneeling before the throne of grace glorifying God, confessing our sins, making intercession and enjoying the presence of the blessed Saviour. And the children, too, seemed caught up in this atmosphere.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Apart from the server's ghastly running shoes, there is that matter of the imitation pre-formed strips that formed the reredos on which the crucifix is hung. I realize that this congregation possibly could not afford real polished wood, but for me the invasive influence of IKEA-dom seemed supremely unneccessary. If anyone from St Aidan's reads these words, please consider removing that stuff behind the altar, and hanging the crucifix directly on the wall.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Fr. Lambusga was at the ready to invite me downstairs for the coffee hour.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
This was quite a spread. Everyone stayed for coffee or fruit juice, plus a selection of sandwiches, salad items and cookies. There was a special table set aside for about 10 smokers. They lit up and puffed away without a word of reproach from anyone! I suspect this almost-a-meal gathering is the outcome of genuine hunger. The order of service sheet states "As a devotional practice, fasting since the previous night is encouraged." I feel sure that they did.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I am an Episcopalian to the core. I am also a practising Anglo-Catholic. If I lived in the Des Moines area, unhappily I would be forced to choose between a loosey-goosey protestant-style Episcopalian church and a breakaway, separatist group. (I've read somewhere that "Anglican Catholics" hold some views quite different to mine.) However, I sense I would join in with them in the end. The alternative would be far too wearisome to deal with on a week-to-week basis.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Any celebration of the mass is a joy. And this was a very great joy indeed.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stillness of that congregation before the service began.