click here for gadget for god  
about the ship sign up for our newsletter
community the mystery worshipper gadgets for god caption competition foolishness features ship stuff
mystery worshipper home reports from the uk and ireland reports from the usa reports from australia and new zealand reports from canada reports from elsewhere famous and infamous reports comments and corrections
the mystery worshipper
Comment on this report, or find other reports.
Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
  1373: St Joseph the Worker, Berkeley, California, USA

St Joseph the Worker, Berkeley, California, USA

Mystery Worshipper: Hart.
The church: St Joseph the Worker, Berkeley, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A very nice classical revival building with a few touches of Italianate and Spanish mission thrown in for good measure. The pinkish exterior features twin towers and four white pilasters framing the west door. In the church architecture wars, where traditionalists argue for long narrow churches and modernists for short wide ones, this church seems to have come out in the middle. Inside, the tabernacle takes center stage and is flanked by white and gold angels. I couldn't quite see whether or not the original high altar remained intact; mass was celebrated on a free-standing altar that looked like it was a later addition – thanks be to God it wasn't on wheels! Elsewhere around the church were some beautifully carved stations and wonderful stained glass. There were also four fixed grille confessionals, but no confessions were being heard.
The church: St Joseph's was Father Bill O'Donnell's church. Father O'Donnell was a well known and much loved activist who spent his life standing up for unpopular causes. He was once imprisoned for trespassing at the School of the Americas, a Georgia institution whose critics claim offers instruction in terrorist tactics, and on another occasion was arrested for blocking traffic in San Francisco to protest the war in Iraq, among many other acts of civil disobedience. Father O'Donnell died in 2003 while writing a sermon at his desk. St Joseph's continues today in the tradition of social justice. They hold regular lectures and collaborate with other nearby churches in a group called Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), a non-profit, faith based federation that empowers people to become activists for positive change. St Joseph's has a large Hispanic presence – in fact, the mass I attended was their Spanish mass. They also maintain a middle school and host various social events.
The neighborhood: Berkeley is a moderately sized suburb of San Francisco. It is home to the University of California at Berkeley, and also has its share of industry, including the original Scharffenberger chocolate factory. St Joseph's is in a residential neighborhood, only a short walk from the downtown shopping and dining area.
The cast: I don't think the celebrant introduced himself (noteworthy given his generally conversational style), but from the photo in the parish school's newsletter I could recognize him as the Rev. Stephan Kappler, pastoral administrator. He was assisted by a young man (late teens?) in an alb, a reasonably sized collection of music ministers, lectors, eucharistic ministers and (unfortunately) six different people who made after-mass announcements.
The date & time: First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2006, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Misa en español.

How full was the building?
Quite full. I sat toward the back so as to be better able to observe people, and I was impressed that the front pews filled up before the back ones, which were mainly taken by latecomers. Maybe 300 to 400 people in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Before the mass started, Father popped up at the front and asked if there were any visitors. Not wanting to make myself any more obvious than I already had as the only blond-haired blue-eyed congregant in an otherwise completely Hispanic gathering, I didn't put my hand up, but anyone who did was applauded. After that, he encouraged us to introduce ourselves to our pewmates, and the people on either side of me did introduce themselves and welcome me (one in English, one in Spanish).

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew itself was nice, but the spacing of rows was a little tight, which led to the girl behind me kicking my feet whenever I knelt.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and prayerful. I think the children were quieter before mass than they were during the homily.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Father's pre-service jollies began with "Buenos días y bienvenido a nuestra celebración eucharistica." The mass proper began with "En el nombre del padre, y del hijo y del espiritu santo."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Two books, one a bilingual missalette and the other a hymnal, both called Unidos en Cristo.

What musical instruments were played?
Guitar and (I think) a banjo. There was a choir loft and an organ, but neither was used. The choir were very competent at leading congregational singing and the mass setting was simple enough that I could pick it up as we went along, but no one announced the hymn numbers so I had no idea of what page to turn to in the hymnal.

Did anything distract you?
Not quite a distraction, but I was surprised at how few people received communion (about half), although pretty much everyone who did received in both kinds. Maybe those confessionals needed to be manned! As I was the only one in my pew who went up to receive, I was somewhat unsure of the choreography. I'd also forgotten about the common Roman Catholic practice of taking up a second collection, as my parish doesn't do this, and so I was a little embarrassed to be caught without change for it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
No smells or bells and fairly modern music (with the exception of Beethoven's Ode to Joy used as a hymn tune for the recessional). The liturgy was relaxed but still reverential. It was almost entirely faithful to the Church's liturgical instructions, but I noted that ustedes was used for informal you-plural, as is common in New World Spanish, instead of vosotros which one hears in Spain.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father left the sanctuary and stood at the front of the pews to preach, occasionally wandering a few rows into the aisles. At one point he forgot the Spanish word for something (I gather Spanish is a second language for him) and asked the congregation for help; he dealt with this very well, not losing composure, but using it as an opportunity for a little humor. He also spoke slowly and clearly enough that I could just about follow along despite my lack of full proficiency in Spanish. Full marks for style.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but also a general time for change. The congregation could help bring about justice this Advent. He gave examples of how BOCA helped people with citizenship applications, promoted education, and worked to combat the AIDS epidemic.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The lector who read the psalm had a very engaging, expressive style of reading which I enjoyed hearing. It was also great to see the building so full and to experience the friendliness and sense of community apparent in the context of this reverential atmosphere.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The hymn numbers not being announced! Hymn boards were clearly visible, but they were blank.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone pretty much left, but slowly. Some people outside the door were handing out various leaflets, which slowed down the exodus even more. Once outside, people stopped and chatted in the sun in front of the church. I looked lost for a little bit and then toddled off to find some lunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There didn't seem to be any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'd like at least to visit again. In fact, one of the announcements was about a special liturgy involving their former bishop blessing their new image of Our Lady of Guadalupe the following Saturday. I determined to make an appearance.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. As this was my first experience worshipping in Spanish, I was especially happy to share the eucharist with a new group of people and to be reminded of how our worship transcends language.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That the pews filled up from the front!
please give to the floating fund
camino pilgrimage
The Mystery Pilgrim
One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
mystery worshipper sunday
London churches
Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.
follow ship of fools on twitter
buy your ship of fools postcards
sip of fools mugs from your favourite nautical website
      More Mystery Worshipper reports          
      ship of fools