|450: St Andrew's, Gainesville, Florida|
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Mystery Worshipper: Singingmary.
The church: St Andrew's, Gainesville, Florida.
Denomination: Episcopal Missionary Church (separated from the main Episcopal Church of the USA in 1992).
The building: St Andrew's has a traditional frame exterior, set back in a wooded lot. Inside the church is very utilitarian with a plain wooden altar against the front wall, linoleum floors and moveable seating. I believe the church was only completed in the last few months, so perhaps some decorative touches are in the works.
The church: A real cross-section of ages with a healthy 20s and 30s component. Not just the snow-white heads that sometimes seem to dominate our churches.
The neighbourhood: Rather dull area of middle-class subdivisions and small office parks.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Rector, Rev. Ronald Kuykendall (Father Ron), assisted by Dr Jack Hurse, deacon, and two teen-aged servers.
What was the name of the service?
Order for Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
About half to two-thirds full, give or take 100 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The lady usher who handed me the service booklet wished me a good morning.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was very comfy, padded chairs that were movable (and bright red), with a pouch on the back remeniscent of an airline seat. The kneelers were also padded, but they weren't attached to the seats. Consequently, when we knelt to pray, everyone had to dive down and secure their kneeler which would otherwise skitter away on its little metal feet.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty. Father Ron was working the crowd, reminding people not to sleep during his sermon and kissing babies. The deacon had to come and fetch him away to start the service. The congregation was also milling around a fair amount. Happy and noisy, not reverential. People did quiet down for the piano prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"If Thou would be extreme to mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand?" (Introit for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The complete order of service, including hymns, was in a booklet. There were Bibles (New King James Version) in the seat-back pouches and we were referred to them during the sermon. There were stacks of the Book of Common Prayer by the door, but no one seemed to be using them.
What musical instruments were played?
A piano and an electronic keyboard.
Did anything distract you?
The lack of good accompaniment for the choir. The choir of five and the congregation struggled bravely with only the support of a skeletal accompaniment on the keyboard. Since the keyboardist played a competent prelude and postlude on the piano, I can only assume that he had been pressed into service without time to rehearse the hymns.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was an eclectic mix of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and "evangelical" style. While the priest and deacon wore only surplices (over their robes, that is), there were bells and genueflections at the consecration. The hymns were definitely praise-song style while the Sanctus and Gloria were the traditional Anglican melodies. The result was a little incongruous.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
After 10 minutes of announcements, we had a 35-minute sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Fr. Ron was very upbeat and well-prepared, preaching without notes but not getting lost along the way.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The question was posed: If this "Christian life" isn't working for you, why? Have you really let God into your life? The sermon was on the necessity of forgiving those who injure us. Failing to do so risks a separation from God that could last forever. However, you don't have to be friends with someone who keeps hurting you, "because Jesus isn't asking you to be a knucklehead," but you can't spend your time eaten up with anger and hate.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The happiness of the congregation and the beautiful traditional prayers. The affection the children had for Fr. Ron.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The miserable one-finger bass accompaniment to the hymns. After the first couple of hymns, you just dreaded its return.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted with great enthusiasm by Fr. Ron and was the recipient of many hopeful smiles, since this is a growing and eager congregation. In fact, I was nervous about standing still too long for fear I might find myself pressed into service.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't see any coffee, but there were some homemade cookies. I'm sure the children made short work of them.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 If I were a conservative Protestant looking for a church home, this would be an attractive parish. They are very close-knit, with lots of activities and projects. Since I'm a Roman Catholic, active participation is not an option.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I'm always amazed at the variety of the body of Christ and found the wide age spread and optimism of the church quite touching.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
When the rector's wife (I think it was the rector's wife anyway) went up to communion with their two little children, they reached out for hugs from their father at the communion rail and got them and kisses as well. The moment reflected charmingly the church's combination of the formal and the familiar.