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559: The Church of the Resurrection, Ellicott City, Maryland
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The Church of the Resurrection, Ellicott City, Maryland.
Mystery Worshipper: Requiem.
The church: The Church of the Resurrection, Ellicott City, Maryland.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: From the outside, this ugly building resembles a school gym rather than a church. The monotony of the red brick slabs is broken only by too narrow windows and the approach from the car-park is particularly unpleasant. Inside, however, it's delightful. The stations of the cross, carved in honey-coloured wood, are the only ornamentation on the whitewashed walls. One wall is painted a dark forest green which serves to subtly draw your attention to the white altar in front of it. A lifesize wooden statue of a cross and the risen Christ hovers rather alarmingly over the congregation. The space is remarkably light and airy and ceiling fans help keep it blessedly cool.
The neighbourhood: I know very little about the area but driving through, it looked fairly typical suburban America. We were smack in the middle of the sprawl between Washington and Baltimore and I suspect a fair number of the congregation commute to one of those cities. I noticed a giant Kmart just behind the church, should you need an after-service shopping fix.
The cast: Fr. John DoBranski.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
The building was perhaps three quarters full. Most of the pews were occupied but there were still plenty of spaces on them. I noticed a fair range of ages, including a couple of screaming babies. I understand there are nursery facilities and on most Sundays the children leave for their own sacrament of the word.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. However I was there with a regular and I think I would have been approached if alone. The hymn books were already in the pews and we helped ourselves to service sheets, so there wasn't even the opportunity for a friendly smile as those were given out.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very. It was a long oak pew in a simple design. The ergonomically sloped back and the tapestry-effect cushion meant I could have sat there all day. There was a convenient niche to push closed books into but unfortunately no ledge to rest them on. I kept putting them down beside me and losing them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered, bowed their heads briefly in prayer, then turned and chatted to their neighbours. It felt friendly but not particularly reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the church of the resurrection. We're gathered today to celebrate the solemnity of the body and blood of Christ. Father John DoBranski will preside at our service this morning, assisted by... " Priests, altar servers and readers were introduced.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The People's Mass Book and the Gather hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Hymns were accompanied by either the organ or the piano, which were played with more restraint and delicacy of touch than is typical. A trumpet, most noticable in the opening, rang out gloriously.

Did anything distract you?
Watching the interactions between the children and the leaders. There was a handgestures thing happening at one point and the kids were encouraged to join in. They weren't keen. They also seemed distinctly skeptical about the questions and answers part of the sermon.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road american catholicism. The worship was restrained but sincere, and the music added greatly to it. Unfortunately the congregation was unfamiliar with a couple of the more modern hymns and the singing of these suffered. This was the monthly children's service and the children made a sterling job of the readings. The younger kids were brought up to the front and spent much of the service sitting cross-legged in front of the altar. There was the occassional nod to tradition; for example Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) was sung during communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The sermon was directed at the huddle of kids in front of the altar and admittedly I'm just a little older than the target audience. However I'm sure that even at age 5 I would have deeply resented comments like, "There are lots of long words in this kids, and you may not understand them all, but that's okay." The priest seemed uncomfortable around the children and the mix of question and answer format with them and the occassional "long word" comment to us was awkward at best.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bread really is the body of Christ, so when we take communion we take Christ into us. That means that when you're talking to your brother or sister you're really talking to Jesus, too. Maybe if we thought about about that we'd treat people nicer. Of course, the problem is that if you take that to it's logical extreme you should be nice to catholics, maybe to other christians, but there's no need to be nice to non-christians at all.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A lass in her mid-teens sang psalm 34, accompanied by the piano. It was a beautiful setting, a paraphrase I think, and she has a lovely voice. The refrain "I will bless the Lord; God's praise shall be ever on my lips," was simple enough that after one or two repetitions most of the congregation was able to join in. There was a real sense of her leading our worship rather than performing. I understand a lot of care goes into selecting and preparing the music here. It shows. I only wish I knew the setting so I could track it down. Note to the music director: This is the sort of information that, along with the psalm number, it would be great to have in the service booklet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cringe-worthy Sesame Street additions to the liturgy. "Now kids, I want you to listen very carefully to the word of God, okay?"

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We misread the bulletin and wandered in search of coffee and toilets. When we returned most of the congregation had left. A couple of little knots of people hung around chatting and getting in the way of the early birds for the next service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None, although I understand that there's coffee and donuts once a month.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I think I would have scored that higher had it not been the childrens service. However, if you're looking for a friendly, welcoming catholic community with an excellent standard of music I would recommend dropping in.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. Inspite of coming from a different tradition I felt welcomed and accepted here. There was a genuine sense of friendship and community. Sometimes in a liturgical service it can feel as if the worship is a "priest-thing" done up at the altar whilst we watch. There was none of that here. It really felt as if everyone present, ordained or not, was part of the priesthood of Christ.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The conclusion to the opening words of the service: "The other ministers of this celebration are all of you. So please take a moment to stand, greet your friends and extend a welcome to those you do not know." I've never heard that before and it felt wonderful for our call to be priest, prophet and king to be so clearly stated.
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