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586: St Hilary's, Fort Myers, Florida
Other reports | Comment on this report
Mystery Worshipper: Rossweisse.
The church: St Hilary's, Fort Myers, Florida.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: It's round, brick, bearing all the stigmata of the late 1960s, with rectangular annexes attached. Curiously, there seems to be no real parking lot; people park on the crabgrass that is cultivated in Florida in lieu of the real thing.
The church: The congregation is perhaps a bit older than the average and drops drastically in population during the summer. They seem to be very warm and friendly and are also more racially diverse than many churches in the area. During the school year they have three services, but they cut back to two during the summer.
The neighbourhood: It's in the city of Fort Myers, Florida, a popular retirement community in the southwest part of the state. Palm trees abound.
The cast: The Rev. Richard C. Grady, celebrant and homilist; the Rev. Susan Henderson (deacon), assistant.
What was the name of the service?
Holy eucharist.

How full was the building?
It was pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, several people greeted us warmly as we approached the front door. We were asked if we lived nearby and asked us to pin little white ribbons bearing silver cross stickers to our shirts, to identify ourselves as visitors. They gave the impression that they really cared. People were very friendly at the peace, but not overbearing. There was no pew hopping, Gott sei dank.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was a solid, comfy pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was pretty quiet, but not silent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Before we begin our service this morning, I would like to tell you that (name of deceased parishioner) passed on last week."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1982 Hymnal and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. There were Bibles in the pew racks, but we were not called upon to use them.

What musical instruments were played?
A surprisingly good pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
The rather ugly wrought-iron accoutrements and the choir's ugly blue robes with protestant style stoles.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was comfortable, middle-of-the-Episcopal road. I was surprised to see two small acolytes carrying the American and Episcopal Church flags in the procession. Unusually, they also had a verger.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 Earnest but a bit dull.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The yoke: its meaning and purpose; how a yoke is constructed (for a specific pair of animals), tying into the fact that Jesus was a carpenter and knew all about yokes. He overlooked the fact that human beings also sometimes use yokes (milkmaids, for instance), but as his point was about being yoked with others this made sense.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing and hearing the deacon read the gospel with beautiful smile and an air of absolutely heavenly radiance about her.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hearing the choir sing the Irving Berlin showtune "God Bless America" during communion. The final hymn, "Lift Every Voice and Sing", was at least in the hymnal, but absolutely ghastly wowser stuff, with lots of very Baptist-style harmonies. Someone must have paid off the hymnal committee to get that travesty in there. I should note that we visited on the Sunday following American Independence Day, and all the music was of a determinedly patriotic nature. I have no objection to that, being rather determinedly patriotic myself, but I do feel that Tin Pan Alley should wait for, at the very least, the coffee hour.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We sort of shuffled out with the crowd, several of whom greeted us. The clergy were busy talking to others by the time we got to them, so we simply proceeded on out to the car.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We skipped it, having other appointments.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 If I were moving here, I'd certainly give them another look; they're nice folks, and there were no guitars. But I'd also check out the competition before settling down.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely, except during "God Bless America" and the final hymn, when I was thinking there was perhaps something to be said for synagogues after all.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The genuinely friendly greeters at the front door.
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