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688: St Alban's, Washington DC, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Mystery Worshipper: St Redevivus.
The church: St Alban's, Washington DC, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: The church is a handsome Victorian stone building with glorious windows (many commemorating English saints) and very dark and beautiful woodwork. A typical church design, with a long nave, chancel-choir, and the sanctuary far away from the nave. The setting of St Alban's is on the same Mount St Alban as the cathedral of saints Peter and Paul, which is the national cathedral. St Alban's parish antedates the cathedral by some 50 years.
The church: St Alban's is a large, affluent, multi-staffed parish, doing much in education and outreach. It has been a "pulpit" for many great preachers; the current rector is noted as being one of the Episcopal church's best preachers.
The neighbourhood: As said above, the church is in the vicinity of the cathedral. It's rather interesting in this country to have the same sort of configuration as in England: a cathedral, with a parish church nearby. Most American cathedrals are also parishes.
The cast: The preacher was a newly-ordained transitional deacon, the Rev. Kenneth H. Brannon, the seminarian at St Alban's. Rev. J. Carlyle Gill, Rev. Margot D. Critchfield, Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway were also in attendance, as was Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, the rector.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite I for the second Sunday in Lent.

How full was the building?
Very full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly usher, a woman, handed me a bulletin with a smile and a hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, for an "older" church; no padding, however.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was some talking, but mostly an atmosphere of quiet preparation was noticed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mostly the service bulletin which contained all the liturgical portions needed. A hymnal (1982) was used for the music.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The church was over-heated on this Sunday, which was a partially sunny and bright early spring day. There was considerable running around of people vested in albs before the service, making various preparations, which I found distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
For a Rite I liturgy, it was fairly non-turgid and flowed well. This reviewer had never heard of doing the decalogue in procession.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The well-crafted sermon was given by the handsome seminarian, newly ordained to the diaconate a week earlier at St John the Divine cathedral in New York, his home diocese. He had a good delivery, trying to look at everyone, including the choir behind him. He'd learned to preach well at Virginia seminary, where he is a senior. This reviewer has heard very few graduates of that seminary who are poor preachers.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mr Brannon stuck to the epistle which this Sunday was "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels... will be able to separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord." A large part of the sermon dealt with the preacher's recent ordination. There was humor in it, as when the preacher remarked that the incense at the ordination liturgy surely shattered the rector's Protestant sensibilities – that received a corporate guffaw from the congregation. The preacher expressed eloquently the love shown him by the rector and the congregation in attending his ordination and all the others surrounding him with love on his ordination day.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The offertory anthem by the choir, a setting of George Herbert's "King of glory, King of peace" by Harold Friedell, moved me. I love that text and Friedell's very straightforward music always is enjoyable.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After the service, I was not greeted by anyone, not the people who sat with me in my pew (who were enthusiastic during the peace), nor by anyone else. The only cleric, among the many there, who greeted me was the seminarian/preacher. In a parish which obviously has a number of visitors, I expected their hospitality to be first-rate and I was disappointed and saddened by that.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have time to go to coffee hour, although I wouldn't have known where to go for it anyway. However, a very nice older lady spoke to me as I was walking out of the church whistling the tune of the last hymn. That prompted her to strike up a conversation in which I heartily engaged.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I lived in Washington, I don't think I'd make St Alban's my parish home. I'd probably find a parish where the worship was a bit more catholic in tone and certainly one that would be friendlier.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Going to church always makes me glad to be a Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The decalogue in procession.
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