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689: St Mary's, Arlington, Virginia, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Mystery Worshipper: Laud and Clear Quirister.
The church: St Mary's, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: The church is out of basic stone, a Gothic Episcopal church with sensitive postmodern additions. The interior of the church preserves the dark wood beams one would expect from the exterior. The walls and the woodwork surrounding the altar are painted white. The effect is a bit like a stage set of an Episcopal church. I was reminded of productions of "Our Town."
The church: The church is high by Virginia standards, which makes it middle broad. The church building could be the dictionary illustration of an Anglican or Episcopal church. The congregation is predominately (but not exclusively) white.
The neighbourhood: Middle to upper-middle class suburban Washington, DC. The church is adjacent to a Roman Catholic college and a posh country club.
The cast: Celebrant: Rev. Andrew T.P. Merrow, rector; Preacher: Rev. Tracy A. Bruce, associate rector.
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist: Lent II.

How full was the building?
It would have been two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher handed us a bulletin as we entered and said hello. When the peace was passed, no one said more than "Peace with you." After the service, both the associate rector and the rector spoke to us in the receiving line. Not one parishioner said a word to us.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was standard. The kneelers were a bit stiff for my boney knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. Nothing more than whispers.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"This morning our service begins with the great litany." (There then followed a brief, clear explanation of the great litany).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer; The Hymnal 1982; the Bible (NRSV) for reading along with the lessons – only a few people near me actually read along.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The music was unobtrusive. This isn't a great choral institution, but the service music was fine. The church is evidently searching for a new music director.

Did anything distract you?
The architecture, while nicely done was distracting to a newcomer. The altar has been moved to the center of the crossing. The wall behind the altar closes off what formerly must have been the chancel. Above it is an apparently unused balcony. From the nave, you couldn't tell what goes on in the trancepts. I spent some moments wondering how the architecture held together.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip. They smile nicely, but don't go out of their way to welcome visitors.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pleasant delivery of concise exegesis and brief personal examples held together by clear logic.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Money can be used for good. In God's economy, nothing will separate us from God's love. Once we understand this, we may want to return the gift. As Americans, we are lucky to have wealth and security. We could easily have been born into another context. By sharing our wealth, we can do great good.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was well delivered. The liturgy was handled with ease and grace.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This parish really needs to work on their welcome. The parking lot has signs saying "St Mary's Permit Parking Only." Where do we visitors park? Several blocks away and then walk. The clergy made an effort to be friendly, but other than an usher handing a bulletin to us and the perfunctory passing of the peace, not one parishioner talked to us. We went to coffee hour and still no one talked to us.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The clergy talked to us, but did not point the way to the coffee hour. After we walked out of the door, we couldn't get inside the locked door of the parish hall. Someone opened the door to the parish hall, we got our coffee. No one approached us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee, strong but over-extracted, was served in ceramic mugs with the Episcopal shield. They had only light cream (no milk). No cakes or cookies.

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?
The liturgy and the preaching were top flight.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
No one talked to us! I haven't had that experience in a long time.
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