|454: St John's Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sunbeam for God.
The church: St John's Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Huge, neo-Gothic, with perfect acoustics. Stained-glass windows line the walls. Typical ECUSA cathedral, near as I can tell. It was gorgeously decorated for Christmas, with pointsettias and evergreens everywhere. The evergreens were strung with tiny white Christmas lights, and candles were set up all over the place. Quite magical, really.
The church: The seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, the Cathedral has a professional choir which is just amazing. The carol services are always worth trying to find a place to park downtown, even on Gator Bowl/New Year's Eve.
The neighbourhood: Smack in the middle of downtown Jacksonville, an area the mayor has been trying to revitalize since he was elected, with moderate success. The revitalization hasn't quite reached here, however.
The cast: The Very Rev. Edward Harrison Jr, Dean.
What was the name of the service?
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (New Year's Eve).
How full was the building?
Packed to the rafters, with extra seating set up in the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Chivalry is alive and doing quite well, still. The usher greeted me as he handed me the service sheet, and other gentlemen who were going into the building stood back and let me pass (with a cheery "happy new year!", too). I love the South.
Was your pew comfortable?
Moderately so (it's a pew after all).
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived after the preludes had begun, so all I could hear was the organ. Most of the congregation was paying rapt attention.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Will the congregation please rise?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service Sheet and 1982 Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir.
Did anything distract you?
Yes, but in a good way. The lights were dimmed and candles were everywhere, including in the sills of the huge stained-glass windows on each side of the church. As night fell and the cathedral darkened, my attention was constantly drawn to the dancing flames. With the choir and the readings it was a wonderful meditative experience. And I didn't feel quite so guilty about the debauchery that followed!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional high church, which was a huge (and somewhat welcome) contrast to the evangelical service I'd been at the day before.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The hymns. There is nothing as beautiful as a church full of people singing "O come let us adore him," accompanied by an organ that doesn't drown you out.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The arctic gale that was blowing through the place. Ironic, really, that the most hellish thing was the bitter cold.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance New Year's Eve, downtown, everyone was off to parties (myself included).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Heh. The after-service "coffee" was really after-service vodka down at the Landing with my friends.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 It's a beautiful church with a magnificent choir, but if I'm going to drive that far, I'll just stick with my own parish. Besides, I hate driving over the Matthews Bridge.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Walking out of this majestic cathedral, with the bells ringing, and seeing a homeless man (woman? it was difficult to tell) walking in the street ahead of me. The spiritual conviction felt like a punch in the abdomen.