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452: St Andrew's, San Bruno, California
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St Andrew's, San Bruno, California
Mystery Worshipper: Nunc Dimittis.
The church: St Andrew's, San Bruno, California.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Fairly plain and unassuming from the outside, but cosy on the inside. The ceiling and sanctuary areas are covered in wood panelling, with upward curving beams. My sister and mother remarked that this made it look like a "ship inverted" – which of course it is!
The church: The overall feeling is very much that this is a close knit community, yet one which allows plenty of room for people to be themselves.
The neighbourhood: St Andrew's backs onto Junipero Serra Park – a largish sports-field complex including a pool. Fr. Junipero Serra founded many of the Californian Spanish missions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He established and travelled El Camino Real, the Royal Road, which runs from San Francisco to San Diego and which connected all the missions by about a day's walk. El Camino Real is very close by. Crystal Springs Rd, on the opposite side of the park to the church, joins it about four blocks east. There were also some spectacular Christmas lighting efforts in the nearby streets.
The cast: Rev. Karen Swanson (preacher and celebrant). There were two servers (one a crucifer who also asssisted with communion), and two acolytes, and a lector, Chris Weld.
What was the name of the service?
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

How full was the building?
There were about 30 there and the building, while not enormous, is very spacious. People sat spaced quite widely apart.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Some chap who was on the door greeted us and handed us service sheets. I was on a bit of a high, so shook as many hands as came near me at the peace, and there were several friendly enquiries as to who I was, etc.

Was your pew comfortable?
Nicely so. Kneelers were in a good position – both for kneeling in relation to the pew, and for *ahem* putting one's feet on during the sermon – and well-padded.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. Not enough people to be reverential. There were a few regulars at the back talking, but this was not disturbing. We were on time, so there wasn't long to wait. I think most people came in after us; we ended up not far from the front.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We welcome you here tonight to St Andrew's and are glad you could be with us." The celebrant greeted us, gave some general directions then asked us to turn to the processional hymn. She then went down the back and the sanctuary party processed in.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet: "Joy to the World" (order of service based on the Book of Common Prayer, 1979), The Hymnal 1982. There were copies of the Book of Common Prayer in the pew holder thingies.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ (electric), trumpet, and there were several choir members there who asked us not to sit in their area, but I didn't hear them exactly raising the roof. The trumpet was a lovely touch.

Did anything distract you?
The two acolytes, who were about seven or eight years old, wearing white sandshoes underneath their black cassocks and surplices. They also didn't have service sheets or hymnals handy, and weren't paying a great deal of attention. However, the atmosphere was so relaxed, it made me giggle more than frown.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Moderate modern high Anglican. The celebrant described herself to me afterwards as being a bit higher than St Andrew's, but adapting herself to it. Fairly relaxed, although there were the usual gestures – acknowledging the altar, Gospel procession, the celebrant wore a cope – and I was surprised that the celebrant wore what appeared to be a tunicle rather than a chasuble. I may have been wrong about the exact description of the vestment she wore, but it looked like a tunicle to me! At one point one of the acolytes moved across to the other side of the altar where the celebrant was sitting, and the exchange between the two was obviously affectionate, and far from disrupting things, showed that things were relaxed enough here to cope with almost anything.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was read. But from some of the ideas thrown in showed that the preacher had put quite some time into preparing it, and I appreciated this.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Luke narrative of the Christmas story: "Good News of Great Joy." How people today show this "good news" and "great joy" in what they do at Christmas. How God enters the world: in a humble, probably cold place, in poverty. How he was born during a time of great oppression by Caesar Augustus: "Into the world of Pax Romana came this One of peace." How the angels came first to the shepherds, the despised of society, heralding the ministry of Jesus to "worthless characters" and those who need someone to accept, comfort, heal and love them. People like you and me.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After everyone had taken communion, the lights were put out, and everyone sang Silent Night kneeling, by candlelight. We had individual candles, there were four enormous candelabras, two on each side of the altar (which I puzzled about, as the church does not have the reserved sacrament, and did not appear to celebrate benediction), and on the end of evey pew was a three pronged candelabra holding lit votive candles. Absolutely beautiful, and very moving. I liked the fact that some time after communion was spent in reflection this way.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to sing standing next to my mum and sister. My sister was singing an octave below what was written, and neither she nor my mum kept time or pitch terribly well. Arghh! A singer's worst nightmare! And the organist must have been a bit tired; some of those chords were, um, interesting. As was the "accompaniment" to "In dulci jubilo."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Couldn't look lost. We stood at the back contemplating the architecture – and as we did so, the celebrant came and chatted to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Sheesh! We all have to get up on Christmas morning (about 6 hours for most of us)!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – As I live on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, regular attendance would be difficult. But it was a very warm place. If I were to be here permanently I might look for something slightly higher up the candle, but certainly I know I would be welcomed here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. For the first time in a month.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Singing Silent Night by candlelight after communion, and the votive lights at the end of each pew. And the cold air outside! Christmas in Australia is always stinking hot.
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