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962: St Philip Neri, Fort Mill, South Carolina, USA
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St Philip Neri, Fort Mill, South Carolina, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Monastery Hood.
The church: St Philip Neri, Fort Mill, South Carolina, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: This church is in transition. In the early part of the year a heavy snowfall damaged the roof of the building, and the congregation has been on the move for months, celebrating mass mostly in a local school auditorium while repairs have been going on. This mass was the first to be celebrated in the repaired building.
The church: This is a very fast-growing church, serving the Fort Mill and Rock Hill communities. It had to put up with having no church building for almost nine months.
The neighbourhood: The church sits in a rural area, although there is much development in this region. It is in the Diocese of Charleston but is served by The Oratory in Rock Hill, a loosely organized religious community that follows the example of fellowship set by St Philip Neri. The priests serving the church reside at The Oratory.
The cast: The Most Rev. Robert J. Baker, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, was presider and celebrant. Assisting the Bishop were the church's pastor, the Rev. John P. Giuliani, C.O. (Congregation of the Oratory), the Rev. Fabio Refosco, C.O., the Rev. Joseph Pearce, C.O., and the Rev. Deacon Jon Dwyer. Bishop Baker was on hand to bless the repaired church roof and the cornerstone of the new ministry building under construction. Father Pearce was formerly an assistant pastor but is now pastor of another church.
What was the name of the service?
10.30am Mass, 30th Sunday in ordinary time.

How full was the building?
Surprisingly, the building was not full. I had expected it to be bulging at the seams, but not so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady said hello, then handed me a bulletin, a program and a missal/hymnal combination, first asking me if I needed the large print (did I look myopic?).

Was your pew comfortable?
No pews – rather comfy chairs with padded seats. No kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The level of noise was high. There was much hugging, greeting, walking around, gossiping. I observed very few people genuflecting upon arrival, even though the tabernacle was right there behind the altar.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Since Bishop Baker began the service from the rear of the church, he was well into the opening prayer before most people realized he was talking. Therefore, I don't know what he said!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymnal and missal combination.

What musical instruments were played?
A piano, a flute, much brass, and percussion. The brass section was rather dominant.

Did anything distract you?
The noise was the biggest distraction. And the music was very loud, perhaps because two large speakers were placed at each side of the altar and they blared mightily forth. I'm not sure if this is a permanent fixture. Hope not! Also, there was a dreaded projection screen on the wall behind the altar and to the right – I was fearful it was going to be put to use. Thankfully it remained pleasantly blank. A lady in the congregation appeared to have an allergic reaction to the incense and had to be helped out of the church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A tendency toward happy-clappy. During the Lord's Prayer, almost everyone held hands – even across the aisles.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Not having worn a watch, I'd have to guess and say it was no more than 10 or 12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Bishop Baker is a very good speaker and his delivery was pleasant.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is a congregation that loves its clergy. There was much joy in having Father Pearce, the former assistant pastor, in attendance.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The noisy, non-reverential time before mass started.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a chance. We were swooshed outside to partake of the wonderful refreshments laid out by the ladies of the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was nice to have the choice of regular or decaf. And the desserts were to die for!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I would prefer a more conservative church, although Fathers Giuliani and Fabio seem to be very caring priests.

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 hustle and bustle and noise of this congregation.
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