|678: St David's, Austin, Texas|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Wandering Texan.
The church: St David's Episcopal, Austin, Texas.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: This is a fortress-looking Gothic structure dating to 1853. It has an appending day school now being housed in portable buildings for the duration of a major construction project. A four-level addition is in the process of being built. There is also a functional multi-story parking garage behind the church. Grace chapel, where the service was held, seats about 25, and has stained glass on one side. The carved walnut altar was offset and worshippers entered to one side of it.
The church: The church is very ministry-oriented and operates a large kitchen for the homeless, a pre-school, and a thrift shop that benefits several charities.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in downtown Austin, just north of the Sixth Street entertainment district and about four blocks south of the State capitol complex. The neighborhood has a mix of business people, office and state workers along with a fair number of homeless, street people.
The cast: Rev. Ron Smith.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were seven worshippers to one celebrant This was Friday lunch time eucharist and was celebrated in the smaller Grace chapel rather than the main sanctuary. The chapel could probably seat about 20-25 when full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was welcomed very warmly by Rev. Smith as I came into the chapel and he spoke to me again after I had taken a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was combination of traditional wooden pews and fairly comfortable padded chairs. There were kneelers only for the pews and first row of chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a quiet reverential atmosphere in the chapel, but it was disturbed by someone practising the organ on the floor above and by some rather loud chatting at the nearby reception area.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Holy eucharist rite II on page 355..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
1979 Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
There were none.
Did anything distract you?
I was distracted, as mentioned before, by the bursts of organ practice and chattering outside. Fortunately, this subsided within the first 10 minutes of the service. I was later briefly distracted by some interesting needlepoint kneelers at the altar rail, which combined a variety of Texan symbols and images with the Welsh leeks of St David.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very personable broad church worship, though some of the worshippers showed higher liturgical leanings and crossed themselves in all the right places.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 A very good handling of a tricky subject. Rev. Smith had a very calm, even way of speaking that could veer into a Mr Rogers type of delivery, but didn't. He clearly and humorously (with a few jokes at the expense of the recently convened Texas legislature up the street) conveyed his message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading came from 1 Corinthians 6, the "everything is lawful for me, but not everything is beneficial" part. We should all think on the effects and impressions of our acts on community. Not just the super lax, but the hyper righteous who think they can break the rules, like David Koresh and other assorted gurus and televangelist types thinking themselves above ordinary morality. You represent the church through your baptism, and your public allegiances matter as a member of the church.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The special kind of timeless quiet that I've most often experienced in old stone churches. Memorable as well were the prayers of the people, which so often can come off like a pro forma recitation; here several people expressed sincere individual prayers.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Bursts of organ practice and chatter from the foyer in the first few minutes of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Rev. Smith again approached me and we talked about my home church and its former rectors.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after service coffee as it was a weekday service and I imagine most everyone had to get back to work. They have an excellent bookstore just down the hall from the chapel and I indulged there.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I worked or lived close to downtown Austin I would be quite enthused about this church. I plan to visit again when I'm in the area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The deep, contemplative quiet achieved in the middle of a construction project in a downtown area.