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972: The Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco, California, USA
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The Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: ACOL-ite.
The church: The Church of the Advent of Christ, San Francisco, California, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The exterior is a little plain, but this is made up for by the interior. It is a small church – no side chapels – but manages to include two shrines, one to the Blessed Virgin and one to St Joseph, facing each other between the congregation and the altar. The altar has a beautiful crucifix hanging over it.
The church: This church is in central San Francisco, not in a residential neigbourhood, so the congregation have all chosen it from a wide range of churches. It attracts those looking for a church with catholic churchmanship of a strong liberal bent.
The neighbourhood: This is a lovely area of the city, near to the city hall, opera house, etc. Unfortunately, traffic noise can intrude sometimes.
The cast: Fr. Rod Thompson celebrated and preached.
What was the name of the service?
Vigil Mass.

How full was the building?
Each pew would have sat four comfortably and each had at least two people in it.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, there was a lady giving out orders of service who gave a brief welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
I didn't really notice anything special about the pew. It was perfectly adequate.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential describes it pretty well, though I don't how much of the silence was due to piety and how much due to people busily reading an unfamiliar order of service (more on why later).

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

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A homemade bilingual service book: the two languages in this case being English and Latin. The majority of the service was Latin Gregorian chant, exceptions being made for the gospel, which was sung in English, and the epistle, homily and prayers of the people, which were spoken in English.

What musical instruments were played?
None, bar a pitch pipe to give the priest his notes. The greater part of this service was sung to Gregorian chant: full score was given in the service books and most of the congregation joined in respectably. The choir sung an introit, the collect, a gradual, an offertory, the preface, a communion motet and the postcommunion on their own, though.

Did anything distract you?
My Latin isn't bad. My plainsong sight reading isn't bad. Put them both together, though, and you get a service which is quite hard work to keep up with. I managed to sing worshipfully, but only by keeping my head stuck in a book for large portions of the service – which I am, in general, loath to do.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
One would typically regard a Latin Gregorian chant mass with smells and bells as rather stiff-upper-lip. However, one could not miss the participants' passion for the gospel (though they may not put it like that) if one watched the right wet eye at the right time.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – An excellent preacher, it was only a shame the sermon was so short. Maybe he had nothing else worth saying, but somehow I doubt it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel reading was Luke 15:25-30 – "Unless you hate father and mother you cannot be my disciple." He asked what do we need to follow Jesus. To build a wall, you need materials; to fight a war you need armies; but to be a disciple: nothing. Nothing is exactly what we need. It is only when we are ready to admit that we have nothing can God show us all that we have in him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It is rare to find the combination of truly beautiful music and (almost) full congregational participation. A foretaste of worship in the eternal city, perhaps?

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A few little things. I was confused by the lack of crucifer – maybe he was ill? Or maybe the MC was ill and the crucifer was standing in for him, as the MC seemed to be doing the minimum possible of his job description (holding the book), leaving the celebrant to direct the rest of the service team with his eyes. Also, for a church with a theology far more liberal than mine, I was surprised to see no woman ministering, except the lady giving out orders of service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Fr Rod introduced himself on my way out and directed me to after service refreshments. Here a number of people made an effort to introduce themselves and we talked about how I found myself in San Francisco and about church politics for quite a while.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very pleasant. A choice of red or white, with cheese, bread and pate to accompany.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If it was a little closer, I might well consider it. However, Fr Rod is not the main preacher here. I might change my mind if the regular is not of the same standard.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. The service was beautiful, the sermon challenging and the Latin reminded me of the vastness of the church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Corpus Christi" – I heard those words spoken individually to me and also corporately to the whole church, and especially those who had worshipped in Latin: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and those history forgets.
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