|675: St Ann, Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Prayer Book Salesman.
The church: St Ann, Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The church is a ubiquitous turn-of-the-20th-century neo-gothic structure of gray stone, with a tower capped by (what looks to be) a deteriorating spire. Original colored slate tiles on the roof make exciting patterns when viewed from a distance. The interior is amazingly beautiful, with stained glass windows, statues, and frescoes galore; however, the portraits of all of the saints lining the ceiling have an uncanny resemblance one to the next. Perhaps the artist was only good at painting one style of face. The entry hall walls were painted with nautical scenes, assumedly from the Bible, but more appropriate for a seafood restaurant than a house of worship. This is, however, the city of Gloucester, America's oldest seaport, so I suppose it's forgivable.
The church: St Ann is self-titled, "Church of the Fishermen", and this being an old seaport town, it can be assumed that this is the house of worship for fishermen (and women). Their website lists no historical information, and I found nothing in the church detailing the parish history.
The neighbourhood: If you've ever visited a New England seaport town, you understand that driving and parking are for the tourists locals walk everywhere. You can't blame them here the streets zigzag every which way, most are one way and all are narrow. The church was right in the middle of what seemed to be a residential neighborhood, and parking was at a premium. I think I saw a small parking lot, but it was filled by the time I arrived.
The cast: The pastor, Rev. Timothy Harrison and the deacon Daniel Dunn, together with Thomas Misuraca (music director) and accompanist Luann Pallazola. There was also a visiting priest from Ireland who has been with the parish for two months, but his name was not listed anywhere he was simply referred to as Father Patty.
What was the name of the service?
10.30am Mass The third Sunday in ordinary time.
How full was the building?
At the beginning of the mass, it was about half full; by 10.45am it was two-thirds full. The nave must easily seat 600, so there were a good number of worshippers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received no welcome whatsoever. I wandered in at 10.20am and there were neither greeters nor ushers. I found a rack of missals, took one and proceeded to a pew. After seeing others with service leaflets, I asked an older gentleman where I could find one. "There's only about 10,000 right there!" he snapped as he pointed to a small table in the corner of the entry hall and abruptly walked away.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seats were box-style pews more typical of colonial New England meeting houses than of Catholic churches. A full-length ultra-wide kneeler and extremely little foot room made sitting very uncomfortable. The saving grace was a heating pipe which ran through the pew providing me with a little comfort in this otherwise chilly building. Kudos to the designer of that little treat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The choir was still rehearsing an anthem at 10.25am, and then Father Patty emerged, teaching the congregation a new version of the Gloria. At 10.33am the choir began singing again, obviously putting the finishing touches on their anthem. The chancel party was assembled and waiting for the processional, and finally the service began at 10.36am.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The actual first sentence spoken was, "I hate this church!" by a young tyke being dragged in by his parents. Luckily, I was one of the few that heard this, and the priest began, "Welcome to St Ann's worship for the third Sunday in ordinary time."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Today's Missal and Today's Missal: Music Issue, along with a dreadful service leaflet with advertisements inside. Nothing like reading about mass intentions alongside ads for "East Coast Tire," and "Cape Ann Taxi." I have never seen anything quite like this.
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic keyboard/synthesizer with a very cheap-sounding piano and strings setting. Evidently the organ in the gallery is just for show.
Did anything distract you?
First of all, in a church that seats 600, I find it hard to believe that a little old lady and her husband have to sit in the same pew as me right next to me. Not even a personal space. And then she proceeds to pull out her rosary beads and start whispering prayers to her deaf husband. The other major distraction was a gentleman in the pew to my left making up his own responses. Went something like this: The Lord be with you. And with you too. Lift up your hearts. We lift him up too. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right for him to give us thanks. Think about the theological implications of that last statement...
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship style was confusing. The keyboard was a poor foundation for the congregation singing, so basically no one sang. Everyone just stood and looked around at one another. Then suddenly they broke into a b-flat jazz-style 12/8 meter "Alleluia" at the Gospel and it was a party. Men were bouncing their babies, women were throwing their heads back, and kids were laughing hysterically. It was a very sad moment as the church laughed at, not with, the song. The cantor thought he was Enrique Inglesias, and even did a Tonight-Show-style clenched-fist-pulled-down-arm-musical-cutoff at the end of the jazz riff I mean the Alleluia. The lowest moment of my church-going career.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was actually given by the chairman of the finance committee. Apparently the congregation's giving is way down, and they need more money. We proceeded to take out the 2002 financial report from inside the service leaflet, and he itemized the spending in each department. Last year, in his words, "the church barely got by. Each of us," he stated, "must increase our contributions to the church." When he finished the congregation clapped.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The odd but very useful heating pipe that ran along the inside of the pews. Nice and toasty for New England winters.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The entire experience (except for the heating pipes) was a nightmare.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone was in a royal hurry, and not one person even made eye contact with me, let alone spoke to me. I simply walked out and down past throngs of people eagerly making their way to their cars.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a professionally-printed sign on the back door of the nave which said, "Coffee and donuts downstairs," but I declined to partake after having been completely ignored.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 For the first time in my church-going life (19 years), I walked out of a church completely and utterly bummed out. It was evident that very few folks wanted to be there, and I cannot contemplate attending here week after week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I am glad I'm a Christian, but this church did absolutely nothing to make me feel this way.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The dancing babies and the Tonight Show band cut-off during the b-flat jazz-style 12/8 meter "Alleluia."