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1112: National Shrine to St Francis, San Francisco, California, USA
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Shrine to St Francis
Mystery Worshipper: ACOL-ite.
The church: National Shrine to St Francis, San Francisco, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Its two towers immediately visible from the street, the white structure of the church is impressive. Inside, the attractiveness continues, with many devotional statues, stations of the cross and a vaulted ceiling.
The church: This church isn't in a residential neighborhood, which always makes a difference; the people coming here will (in general) have traveled away from their nearest church to get here. This allows them to be more adventerous in some ways. The sees itself as a center for music and the Roman Rite. They had three adult education and social evenings in the week I visited (including a film showing and a book group), but nothing seemed to be offered for children.
The neighborhood: The shrine is located in the lively North Beach area, surrounded by lots of good restaurants and the kind of banks you only enter wearing a Sunday suit. There was a notable lack of public restrooms in the vicinity, but thankfully the church had its own.
The cast: The celebrant and homilist was Andrew Ramelow, OP. Evidently, the Franciscans don't trust themselves to preach on the Trinity.
How full was the building?
About 150 people, maybe. About a third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A monk was handing out mass sheets as I came in. He had a long welcome spiel, which went something like: "Welcome to the shrine. Thank you for worshipping with us today." It sounded rehearsed, rather than natural.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine. It had a pillar through the middle of it, which made getting back to our seats after the reception of communion slightly awkward.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet, but most people were just sitting in their pews. Very few were on their kneelers or at one of the devotional statues.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were hymnals in the pews, but all we needed was contained on a mass sheet for the day and a (Latin) musical setting of the some parts of the mass. I think the Bible readings were from the New American Bible, but I'm not sure.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. They boast of their amazing Schoenstein organ on their website, but I was unimpressed based on this playing. There was little variety in registration, although it did produce pleasantly pure tones even towards the bottom of its range. The Schola Cantorum were first class when singing on their own (the shaping on Stainer's "God so loved" was particularly accomplished), but not so good at leading congregational singing.

Did anything distract you?
There were three reasonably well-behaved small boys a few pews in front of me. Their father evidently agreed with me as regards the quality of their behavior, as he ignored them throughout the service. Their mother, however, was distressed at each peep out of them, and frequently took them in and out of the service. Although the mother caused the more obvious distractions, the father's complete nonchalance was quite distracting as well.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty formal stuff, mostly in Latin (except for the readings, intercessions, one of the motets and the hymn) with lots of chanting.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I spent a little while during the sermon trying to work out where the homilist was from. This was the first time he'd spoken (rather than sung) in English, so it was the first time I'd noticed he wasn't American. I think he might have been German, but am not sure.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the Trinity. If we're thinking of something that isn't perfect, we're not thinking of God. He seemed to dismiss as obvious that God would be imperfect if not one, then spend the rest of the sermon explaining why he would not be perfect if he wasn't three. It was very academic preaching, not all of which I understood, but there was a lovely section about God never being lonely. He said that God didn't create us because he needed to out of loneliness, but because he wanted to out of love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang the ordinary (Britten in D, which is fab – I hadn't heard it before) and the motets wonderfully. Also, the celebrant slowed down his speech during the words of institution ("Take and eat this all of you, for it is my body...") to the extent that I could understand his Latin. It was a wonderful touch: I suddenly understood what he was saying at the most universal of moments!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The poor quality of congregational singing. I don't mean that it was bad (I could have lived with that) – I mean that it was half-half-hearted and half-not-there. Maybe the ordinary should be written in modern notation rather than Gregorian? I could half excuse the congregation on the hymn – the organ was overbearing, only letting up on the last verse to let the sopranos soar with their descant – but I have no idea why the people weren't singing the rest. Maybe they were all tourists?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone just left. The sacred ministers were standing outside to shake hands, but no one seemed to be lingering.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. The lemonade and cheesecake I found in a nearby cafe was excellent, though.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The choir sang wonderfully and I found listening to them very worshipful, but I want something more actively participatory as my regular service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I suppose God will have taught the rest of the congregation to sing by the time we get the eternal kingdom.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The cross-shaped hole in the east door that light would occasionally shine through, projecting crosses on various walls of the church.
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