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||1198: Cathedral of St Luke, Portland, Maine, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Frideswide.
The church: Cathedral of St Luke, Portland, Maine, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A French Gothic stone building, looking very traditional
and cathedral-like, albeit with a minimum of towers. One enters from the
parking lot in back through a rather squat brown shelter, which although
unattractive is clearly signed. Inside, the cathedral features stone floors,
elegant hanging lanterns, a grandly carved high altar, and a good supply
of stained glass including a glorious rose window. Although rectangular
rather than cruciform, the cathedral has side aisles and a satisfying set
of nooks and crannies. The chapel (where today's service was held) opens
off the west end and is an octagonal delight paneled in mahogany rising
in gilded arches to a skylight. An alcove holds the chapel's main altar,
with a painting of Madonna and toddling Child, although today's service
was held at a communion table set in the midst of the chapel.
The church: The cathedral's newsletter suggests an active congregation
with a wide range of interests and offerings – outreach projects,
monthly community suppers, a Lenten series on addictions, Sunday morning
education for children and adults alike, quiet days, etc.
The neighborhood: Portland is Maine's largest city but still only
numbers about 63,000 residents. Founded by the British in 1632, it was destroyed
by fire four times during the course of its history. Defiant in the face
of tragedy, the city seal features the phoenix, the mythological bird that
immolated itself only to rise again from its ashes, and the city motto is
the Latin word Resurgam ("I shall rise again.") Today's
Portland featues a sparkling clean downtown area that attracts many tourists.
The cathedral is located a short walk from the center of downtown in a mixed
residential-commercial area. Across the street is Mercy Hospital (run by
the Sisters of Mercy) and next door is the large State Street Church (United
Church of Christ) and the Portland branch of the Bangor Theological Seminary.
The cast: The service leaflet did not give names. Judging by the
photo on the cathedral website, I suspect the celebrant was the Very Rev.
Benjamin Shambaugh, dean of the cathedral.
The date & time: Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006, 7.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Mass with imposition of ashes.
How full was the building?
Sparse, but not unpleasantly so – one or two people in most pews, but it's
a small chapel and they're rather long pews.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. As I was hesitating by the lectern (which is set up near the door of
the chapel) scoping out where to sit, a woman got up and came over. Aha,
thought I, someone come to ask if she can help me. However, she was the
lector come to check the book, and she sat down again without saying anything.
Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wood pews with a single beam across the back instead of a solid back.
Some pews had cushions, though not mine. The beam was more of a bother than
the lack of cushion, though eventually I figured out how to lean on it without
feeling like I was going to slide out. The pews in the cathedral proper
have solid backs but I forgot to test any before I left.
How would you describe the pre-service
Absolutely quiet and reverential. Except for some idiot whose phone beeped five times when she turned the ringer off before the service. Oops, that was me.
What were the exact opening words of the
"The service for Ash Wednesday begins on page 264 of the red prayer
What books did the congregation use during the
Book of Common Prayer (1979). Most of them were red (per announcement),
but some were black. There were also hymnals in the pews (1982 Hymnal),
most of which were blue, but some were red.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The gorgeous surroundings: the gilded woodwork, the chapel's main altar
(and wondering if they ever use it), trying to determine the function of
a large wooden panel with odd protuberances over the entrance.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Quiet and reverential, but not stiff-upper-lip. At the peace, most people
milled around enough to shake hands with everyone else, but did so reverently,
exchanging the peace rather than having conversations. We stood in a circle
around the communion table to receive the bread and wine, but we knelt at
the chapel's main altar to receive ashes.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I noted the starting time, but was so enthralled by what Dean Shambaugh
said that I failed to look at my watch again until 17 minutes later. I would
guess that he spoke for 7 or 8 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The dean read most of his sermon, but was especially effective
when he departed from his written text to look up at us and speak ex
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Ashes remind us that we will die. The good news is that God is here with
us, and it is possible to be reconciled to God. Lent is a time of preparation,
of planting seeds so they can germinate. A brush fire will turn a green
field into ashes, but from those ashes growth will come. We should "take
on" rather than "give up" for Lent – take on prayer, mediation, scripture
reading, and self-examination.
Which part of the service was like being in
As I approached the altar rail for the imposition of ashes, I noted that
the old language which I love was being modified to suit the gender of each
worshipper: "Remember, O man..." or "Remember, O woman..."
as the case may be. "Oh, no," I thought, "Why are they doing
that?" But as I knelt and the words "Remember, O woman, that dust
thou art..." were addressed directly to me, with a firm and clear cross
marked patiently on my forehead, they felt exactly right. And then, because
I was in the last group of people at the altar rail, I could kneel a bit
longer on that soft velvet cushion and soak in being close to God.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to get up and stand in a circle to take communion, and then also
stay standing there to join in the post-communion prayer.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody talked to me afterwards. I hung around inspecting the photo of the
third Bishop of Maine and gazing up at the skylight and generally trying
to look like someone hanging around. Nobody talked to me as they cleared
the altar and picked up the leaflets. Finally, when everything was picked
up, cleaned up, and put away, the altar guild woman and the celebrant emerged
and I had a pleasant conversation with each about the chapel and about the
pastime of visiting churches. The celebrant brought me a pamphlet and a
newsletter. We walked back through the cathedral together and then went
our separate ways. No names were exchanged.
How would you describe the after-service
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I love the building. I loved the quiet and reverence of the service
and congregation. I love the variety of programs being offered. I liked
the preaching. All that is a 10. Never kneeling for communion is a 0.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chapel's mahogany paneling with its gilded woodwork.
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