|1156: Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, California, USA|
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| Mystery Worshipper: Rhipidion.
The church: Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The present building was finished in 2000 and replaced an older structure on the same property. It is a large, white, angular building. The interior is quite beautiful and is filled with liturgical symbols. In the narthex is a baptismal font rough-hewn from a large rock that pierces through the glass wall separating the chancel from the narthex. The worship space was built in the round. The abstract stained glass windows on one side of the church suggest water and baptism by their colors, and those on the opposite side suggest fire and the Holy Spirit.
The church: A goodly mix of ages comprised this congregation. Both the crucifer and one assisting acolyte appeared to be developmentally disabled but carried out their duties with dignity and grace. It was good to see that they were given an active ministry in the church.
The neighborhood: Aptos is a picturesque small town on the edge of Monterey Bay, along the central coast of California. The old Bayview Hotel anchors the town's quaint shopping district, comprised mainly of friendly little shops and restaurants. Just offshore are the wrecked remains of a ship, the SS Palo Alto, which saw active duty during the first World War and was permanently moored in Aptos in 1930 as a recreational attraction. Over the years the ship has deteriorated badly and is now off limits to the public. The composer Lou Harrison, who pioneered alternate tunings and championed the music of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles and Arnold Schoenberg, lived in Aptos from 1953 until his death in 2003.
The cast: The cantor announced that the celebrant for the mass would be Father Roy. As there was no Father Roy listed on the parish staff, I would guess that he actually said "Father Ron" (the Rev. Ron Shirley, pastor) and I misheard him, or that Father Roy was a visiting priest.
The date & time: Saturday, July 30, 2005, 5.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church was about three-quarters full. As the seats on the far back wall behind the altar were not used, the building felt comfortably full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher said "Good evening" as I entered. At the start of the service we shook hands all around. As none of this was spontaneous, I did not feel any particular personal welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
Nice padded pew with matching chairs at the end of the aisle.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet greetings among friends. The assisting acolyte seemed to know everyone and she had a warm smile and a wave for many who came in.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We do not want anyone to feel like a stranger, so please turn and greet your neighbor."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service book called Gather, containing hymns and parts of the mass, was in each pew.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I was distracted by a number of things: the beautiful liturgical art, the wonderful glow on the face of the crucifer as he led the procession. At one point I noticed a mother seated several rows in front of me tightly clasping her squirming son, who looked to be about eight or nine years old.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typical novus ordo Roman Catholic mass with a grand gospel procession introduced by a lovely choral alleluia led by the cantor.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes and 40 seconds.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Considering that the story of Christ feeding the multitudes is so rich in possible subject matter for a sermon, I was a little disappointed that Father Roy didn't give us a bit more theological meat to chew on. Nevertheless, he had a warm engaging style and preached without notes. He stepped down into the midst of the congregation to speak. He told a story of how, when he was a boy, he would pinch his baby sister so she would cry and get him out of mass. I could not help but think that the wiggling young child held in his mother's restraining hug in front of me was wishing that he had a baby sister to pinch.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We go to church to experience God's love for us in the mass. Just as there was food left over when Jesus fed the people with the loaves and fishes, there is more than enough of God's love to feed us all.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beautiful liturgical space. But the real topper came when the cantor said, "We do not want anyone to feel left out of the mass, so when the time comes, if you are not prepared to receive the bread and the wine, please come forward for a blessing."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Let's call it purgatory, as it felt hellish at first but ended up heavenly. The opening hymn was In Christ there is a table set for all. As a Protestant I was sure that this particular table had not been set for me. Then I started to wonder what was I going to do at communion. When I heard the cantor invite all to come forward, I knew what I was going to do. I had fully intended to ask only for a blessing, but instead I found myself spontaneously extending my hands to receive the host.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of mass, even before the recessional was begun, there was a sudden exodus of about half the people. Had I missed something? This is earthquake country after all! I really did feel lost, as I was one of the only ones hanging around. Nevertheless, even though my row had cleared out, I stayed until the end of the hymn and until the altar party had left. I then walked around looking at the art, trying to put on a happy face, but there were not many people left to take notice of me and indeed no one did. Then I moved outside to the front of the church and saw that the parking lot was quickly emptying out as well. Yet again no one spoke to me. Finally I walked up very close to a group who appeared to be friends, trying my best to look new and shy but friendly. Nothing. So like the others I headed out into the evening.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service coffee offered by the Catholics, but I did make myself a nice sandwich from a homegrown tomato someone had given me the day before from the local Episcopal church garden, and my friends with whom I was staying gave me a beer to wash it down.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I lived in the area I would visit this church on a fairly regular basis. The beauty of the worship space truly touched my soul, almost to the point of tears. When I looked around the building I felt as if I had somehow followed Christ out of the tomb on Easter morning. Not only was I viewing the resurrection but I was a part of it. It was quite overwhelming and unexpected.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That for the first time I received communion in a Roman Catholic church.