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501: St Francis Xavier, St Louis, Missouri, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Francis Xavier, St Louis, Missouri, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Rossweisse.
The church: St Francis Xavier, St Louis, Missouri, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, but Anglican-for-a-day for the consecration of the Rev. George Wayne Smith as the 10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.
The building: A huge quasi-medieval pile, the length of a city block. Inside, the decor is quite tasteful (even with its post-Vatican II changes) and the building is possessed of the most forgiving of acoustics. The Jesuits threw away their pipe organ a few years ago, so an electronic counterfeit had to be temporarily installed for the occasion. But it thundered almost as well as the real thing.
The church: It's right next door to St Louis University, a noted Jesuit-run institution. They're obviously quite generous with the neighbors, since they loaned it out to us for the occasion, as they did 10 years ago. A nice ecumenical spirit there.
The neighbourhood: St Louis University could have moved out to the suburbs some years back, but stayed on as an anchor to this somewhat chancey urban neighborhood.
The cast: The chief consecrator was the Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew, Bishop of Ohio and President of Province V. The co-consecrators were the Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting (recently retired Bishop of Iowa), the Rt. Rev. Hays H. Rockwell, 9th Bishop of Missouri, and, in a nod to "Concordat," a pair of ELCA Lutherans, Bishops Philip L. Hougen and Warren D. Freiheit. Roman Catholic Archbishop Justin Rigali also took part, but not in the laying-on-of-hands bit. Among the presenters were the Rev. Canon John C. Danforth, a former United States Senator from Missouri who is also an Episcopal priest. Also on the dais were approximately one ton of bishops and every single vocational deacon in the diocese – all three of them.
What was the name of the service?
The Ordination of the Rev. George Wayne Smith as Bishop in the Church of God.

How full was the building?
Tightly packed, with every cleric in the diocese who isn't actually bedridden in attendance and a cloud of other witnesses around. Each parish got a certain number of tickets; others got in as choristers, altar guild, ushers, banner-toters, etc.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Hordes of people both known and unknown to me were jolly and welcoming and sought to assist me.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, and it wasn't bad. However, since I was a part of the hastily-assembled choir for this event, I was behind the dais. We had a view mostly of assorted episcopal, priestly and diaconal posteriors (all tastefully vested).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy, happy and excited.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins; his mercy endures forever."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special 49-page booklet was printed up for the occasion which contained all things needful to everyone except the choir. It was adorned with a design that incorporated a drawing of a miter and the seal of the Diocese of Missouri. This latter resembles a dead fish on a hook, and it is hoped by some that Bishop Smith will be moved to replace it. Quickly.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, brass quartet (two trumpets, two trombones), handbells (rung en masse during the psalm) and one mercifully lonely acoustic guitar. Most of the music chosen was quite wonderful: Parry's "I was glad" and anthems by Stanford, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Mendelssohn and others.

Did anything distract you?
Negative distractions included the "liturgy kite," which turned out to be a faux dove attached to a long stick and waved about. There were also some very silly vestments (the 1970s were SUCH an unfortunate decade) and that lone guitar. Positive distractions included the be-ruffed child choristers of a Royal School of Church Music-affiliated parish and some lovely processional crosses.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This is a low church diocese, but it was low church with dignity. No smells-and-bells (alas), but the new bishop did sing the sursum corda.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Seminary buddy of the new bishop, and now rector of a parish in this diocese. Quite listenable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Why we have bishops; why we have the Church; what responsibilities both entities have.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the angelic child choristers, and listening to a couple of thousand Episcopalians (including two busloads from Bishop Smith's parish in Iowa) profess their faith together.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Mild confusion over when the choir was to receive communion. And the chunky-style loaves made life difficult for those of us who prefer to receive directly on the tongue, as the chunks were too big to fit comfortably. (And really, as far as hellish goes, this honestly does not qualify... very mild purgatory at the worst!)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone talked to everyone. It was quite an experience.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was mediocre punch – orange juice mixed with ginger ale over ice – and it was insipid. Imagine, that many Anglicans in one place and not a glass of wine to be had! There were also some little sandwiches and other hors d'oeuvres that (barely) kept off starvation. Quite the most disappointing part of the whole affair.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – In one sense, this is a church that comes together once a decade or so, at need. In a wider sense, it IS my regular church, as an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Missouri.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Amazingly so, and very fulfilled.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The general air of joy and excitement.
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