|600: St Paul's, Washington DC|
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Mystery Worshipper: Barnabas.
The church: St Paul's, K Street, Washington, DC.
Denomination: Episcopal (ECUSA).
The building: St Paul's is an unassumingly typical stone Gothic structure in a residential area of the District of Columbia.
The church: St Paul's Parish is one of the most famous Episcopal churches in the United States, known for its superbly done Anglo-Catholic liturgy and professional choir.
The neighbourhood: An upper-class residential area of old townhouses with exceedingly posh shops and restaurants.
The cast: The Rev. Edwin W Barnett, Assistant Priest, The Evensong Choir, an unnamed female lector, and assorted (male) acolytes.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn evensong and benediction of the blessed sacrament, Sunday evening at 6.00pm on the thirteenth Sunday after pentecost.
How full was the building?
There were roughly twenty people in the pews and at least as many vested in the choir and altar party.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the church a young woman handed me a whopping stack of books and gave me a warm smile.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was quite comfortable but a bit creaky so I was constantly afraid to move for fear of creating untoward noises.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere before the service was very quiet and serene with people filing in early to hear the choir practice.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,' darkness is not dark to thee, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to thee are both alike."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
E-gads!! We were given the Hymnal 1940, the Plainsong Psalter, a paper booklet titled "Solemn Evensong and Benediction," a loose sheet for the Antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the regular Sunday bulletin it was a bit hard to keep it all from tumbling to the floor.
What musical instruments were played?
A glorious four manual Schoenstein Organ. The choir, which consisted of all men, sang acapella.
Did anything distract you?
The atmosphere itself was very quiet but the people this service seemed to attract were very musical types who sang along with the choir beautifully but loudly. There were two Brooks Brothers-clad gentlemen in the pew behind me who seemed to think that they needed to make up for the lack of people at the service with the sheer volume of their singing. I, being a mere amateur church choir member, was afraid to open my mouth for fear of not blending with the other worshippers. However, once I decided simply to listen I felt much less self-conscious and enjoyed the service immensely.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This service was the pinnacle of ultra-Anglo-Catholic splendor. Everyone who had any speaking part in the liturgy was vested and the officiating priest was clad in a fabulously ornate green and gold lame cope.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The outstanding acapella choir singing the magnificat and the nunc dimittis.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I was just getting over a bit of a cold and I had to cough several times during the liturgy and I was afraid that if I did I'd incur the wrath of the rest of the worshippers, so I basically forced myself to stop breathing once or twice. The chilling fear of being the one person who interrupts the choir... Also, I had a brief scare that I had gone blind when the lights were unexpectedly turned off for the benediction of the blessed sacrament.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service I was greeted by Father Barnett who introduced himself and welcomed me to St Paul's. He and a few other parishioners told me a bit about the history of the parish and what sort of ministries they were involved in.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was not one that I found. Most of the people hung around the back of the nave chatting or left directly after the service.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, the beauty of the music and the ritual was absolutely transcendant.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The amazing men's choir.