|481: St James, Austin, Texas|
|Other reports | Comment on this report|
Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Texan.
The church: St James, Austin, Texas.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A contemporary-style, stone-faced building completed in 1970 and renovated in the mid 90s. The sanctuary was somewhat diamond shaped with the altar placed between the center and one of the points. A large, beautiful brass cross is suspended from the ceiling over the altar area. It was draped with a purple cloth for this service. The walls are decorated with various icons and drawings, including one of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Pews for the congregation and folding chairs for the choir (not present at this service). A pre-school and playground are attached to the church.
The church: St James's calls itself an inclusive, multicultural community and it lives up to its billing. The congregation on the day I attended was about 50-60 percent African-American. The church is also noted for hosting "Jazz at St James", a weekend of music, fellowship, and worship connecting professional musicians to the congregation. It is also known for the "Good Friday Project", a service in which local artist and performers interpret the Passion, and a Sunday evening service combining contemporary liturgy, casual dress, and diverse music.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in east Austin in an area that has been historically African-American. The immediate area includes the former Austin municipal airport and the current municipal golf course.
The cast: Rev. Greg Rickel, rector, assisted by two lay members.
What was the name of the service?
Ash Wednesday Morning Service.
How full was the building?
About 25-30 worshippers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady of the congregation smiled and brought me a service leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pews and kneelers were comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very silent and reverential, befitting the occasion. Little if any chatter.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The service begins on page 264 of the Book of Common Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, 1979.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The noise of morning traffic outside on Martin Luther King Blvd. was fairly constant throughout the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship style was reserved, though I heard some audible prayers and amens behind me. Things picked up at the peace, though, which was very enthusiastic and very thorough. I believe everyone there passed the peace with me. The sanctus bell was used and it was unusual in that it resembled a table-top version of a Buddhist temple bell, with a deep gong sound.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Well, this is the first rector I have ever heard quote Jimmy Buffet and admit to being a Parrothead (a rabid followers of that Florida singer, given to tropical attire and margarita drinking). His speaking style is very affable and I found his sermon and its wide range of sources interesting.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
People ignore the first part of "You are dust and to dust you shall return." Focusing on the death part of it and not that we are part of/made of the earth and universe. For a visual aid he had a rock, which had been given him by another rector who had described it as not just a rock, but the whole universe. This was further illustrated by quotes from Rudolpho Anaya, Thich Nhat Hahn and Jimmy Buffett!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The brass cross draped in purple and the sound of the sanctus bell.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The whoosing noise of traffic outside was sometimes distracting from the service. The windows look out into a wooded area and the traffic noise took away from the peaceful aspect of the sanctuary and the view. But overall, it was a minor distraction.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to the fellowship hall and was soon talking to a couple that included a retired rector. The breakfast was prepared fresh, so there was time for conversation. At breakfast I sat by the rector and former rector and was treated to some amusing anecdotes of past bishops.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A very generous breakfast was served after the service, consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, sweet rolls, several different juices, coffee and tea. One of the ladies apologized for not having any grits as all they had at the store were instant grits.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 If I lived in Austin, I'd be glad to make this my regular church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was wonderful to worship with such an obviously close, friendly, diverse congregation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
It was the first time I had attended an Ash Wednesday service with the imposition of ashes, as I'm a relatively new Episcopalian. That alone made it a very memorable, moving experience for me.