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629: St Nicholas, Pompano Beach, Florida, USA
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St Nicholas Pompano Beach, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Sumlit.
The church:
Denomination: Episcopalian.
The building: Built in a modern Florida/Spanish style, the church is in the shape of an elongated octagon, and has a light yellow exterior with brown trim. The stained glass is simply patterned, colored glass, with no figures. However, the random patterns in the colored glass distribute the sunlight pleasantly, and the stations of the cross are especially attractive.
The church: All ages and many ethnic and cultural groups are represented in the congregation. As Florida is retirement heaven, there may be a slightly higher proportion of retired members than in other states.
The neighbourhood: The church is located between a funeral home and an office complex. Surrounding buildings in the immediate neighbourhood include a shopping complex, more offices, apartments, town houses. There are very few trees, which makes escape from the sun impossible.
The cast: Rev. Stephen Fregeau, a priest on the diocesan staff, was celebrant and preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite II.

How full was the building?
About a quarter full, with the congregation randomly scattered throughout the building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly greeted by the two ushers at the main entrance with a firm handshake, and words of welcome – were we newcomers or visitors? My companion stated that he worshipped frequently at St Nicholas when he was in Pompano, and had brought me as his guest.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard pew, with a pew cushion, which made it more comfortable than the bare wood. The hinged kneelers' tendency to drop on one's foot didn't help matters however. The communion rail was too high, and the kneelers were too narrow; but since one was not there too long, it was bearable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Members of the congregation whispered and talked throughout the voluntaries before the service, and did not stay to listen to the voluntaries following the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Morning." (It was the first of three good mornings during the service. I guess that if one is good, three are better – or is there some trinitarian connection that I missed?)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1982 Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer. The propers of the day were printed on an insert – a very common practice in the American church. The biblical passages were from the New Revised Standard of the Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, flute and piano.

Did anything distract you?
The constant whispering and undercurrent of talking was distracting. During that time before the service, one needs the quiet to prepare for worship. Also, it is inconsiderate of others to talk during the musical offerings both before and after service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was certainly casual without being happy-clappy or charismatic. There was a sanctus bell rung at the consecration but not at the sanctus. Certain liturgical and ceremonial inconsistencies indicated either a lack of preparation, knowledge, or care on the part of the celebrant.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was a four minute Cursillo explanation, followed by a 23 minute sermon.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – As the Bishop had decreed that 6th October was Cursillo Sunday, one person witnessed about it, then the preacher spoke from the center aisle. His style was low key, informal and verbose.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He presented a good case for "do not what we say but what we do" in explaining the Gospel of the day. He reminded us that we must have commitment to youth; we must be an inviting church; and we must reach out to the community. We must "make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sheer friendliness of the congregation: a wonderful warm welcome both on entering the church and from those around us at the peace, followed by an invitation especially to newcomers and visitors, to the coffee hour. Also, looking at those marvelous glass windows and realizing how colorful (in the best sense of that word) humanity really is. To me, it may have been a foretaste of the colors in heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The simply dreadful jazz arrangements of "Swing low, sweet chariot" and "Swing low, on my way" that were sung between the Gospel reading and the sermon. Then there were prayers for those who had birthdays/anniversaries during the month. The congregation even sang "Happy Birthday" complete with amen and applause – shades of the hour of power? Finally, the tenor attempting to follow his line in "I am the Bread of Life" made me shudder.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no chance of that, as we were invited to sample the delicacies prepared by our Cursillo hosts and hostesses. There are tables and chairs in the parish hall, where people get their coffee and goodies and sit. Visitors and newcomers didn't appear to get the chance to mingle and meet with the parishioners

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, tea, fruit juice, cakes, cookies, biscuits – a wonderful selection.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I'm really an Anglo-Catholic and St Nicholas is a bit too casual. The electronic organ is not a plus.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. The warmth and gracious hospitality we experienced were wonderful.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The rainbow stole worn by the celebrant. It was completely out of character with both the building and the hangings on the altar and lectern.
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