|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.
||1409: St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Merchant Trader.
The church: St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Chuch.
The building: Designed by the firm of Frohman, Robb & Little,
who participated in the planning of the Washington National Cathedral, and
begun in 1928, St Paul's appears to be a cross between the Gothic and Spanish
mission styles, with a courtyard between the church and the great hall.
The interior is Romanesque, plain gray stone walls embellished by carved
wood paneling and furnishings, against which the red Palm Sunday appointments
made quite a splash. The stained glass windows were created by Judson Studios
of Pasadena, California, one of the oldest liturgical studios in North America.
One window depicts the conversion of St Paul, wherein Saul of Tarsus is
literally knocked off his horse by a vision of Christ. A plaque commemorates
the visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the cathedral in 1983.
The church: They see themselves as a "cathedral for the city,"
and as such sponsor a variety of ministries and outreaches all enumerated
on their website. They pride themselves on their outstanding choral music
program, which undoubtedly draws in folk from a wide area. On the day of
my visit, the congregation appeared to be very Californian (tanned bodies
and lots of sunglasses).
The neighborhood: San Diego, on the Pacific Ocean at the southernmost
tip of California, boasts what is said to be the most pleasant climate in
the continental United States and is a favorite vacation destination especially
for folks living in the Southwest. The cathedral is located right across
the street from Balboa Park, a huge city park that's home to the San Diego
Zoo plus a science center and several art museums.
The cast: The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas, subdean, presided. The preacher
was the Very Rev. Scott Richardson, dean. Assisting were the Rev. Canon
Richard Lief and a large supporting cast at the sharp end.
The date & time: Palm Sunday, April 1, 2007, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite Two.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full, but not too tightly packed. I would guess around 250.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived just as the blessing of palms outside the cathedral had concluded
but before the procession had commenced. We were greeted and were given
notice sheets as we processed in later, but service sheets were by then
in short supply and we had to cross the nave to find an usher who still
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pews with underutilized (folk stood for the prayers) drop-down wooden kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service
A police escort led the procession through the streets of San Diego. At
the head of the procession were the Super Sonic Samba School,
one of several groups worldwide that carry on the Brazilian samba parade
tradition, followed by the robed clergy and choir, and the congregation, all
carrying palms. The samba school made an interesting change from the traditional
donkey procession. Light conversation replaced the attempts to keep pace
with a processional hymn, and the whole atmosphere was one of joy.
What were the exact opening words of the
The first words after the procession were: "Let us go forth in peace;
in the name of Christ. Amen," followed by an entrance motet.
What books did the congregation use during the
An 18 page specially printed leaflet. We were also given extensive notes
on the motets and on the passion gospel, which was sung instead of read, according
to seasonal tradition.
What musical instruments were played?
The Super Sonic Samba School used steel drums in the procession, which contrasted
vastly in style with the organ accompanying the Pacific Academy of Ecclesiastical
Music. The academy
is resident at the cathedral and exists "to provide a solution
to the quantitative decline in church music and musicians, and excite as
many people as possible about the beauties of excellent church music."
The organ, a magnificent Aeolian-Skinner instrument, was installed in 1969
and incorporates elements from previous organs.
Did anything distract you?
The attractive mini-skirted dancers of the Super Sonic Samba School could
be said to be distracting, but seemed to fit the joyful occasion. Later in
the service, as the joy of the procession gave way to the agony of the passion,
my attention was at one point taken by a small boy in front who put his
fingers in his ears during one of the motets. This was perhaps more amusing
than seriously distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Quite high but not spikey. Processions, sung liturgy and a fair amount of
choral bits for choir only. Incense in the outside procession, but not during
the eucharistic prayer – I gather things were toned down for Lent.
The choral tradition is one of the greatest attractions of the cathedral
for people over an extended area.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes is my best estimate. I had not planned to Mystery Worship this
service and so had not worn my watch, but the presence of the samba school
was too good an opportunity to go unreported.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Dean Richardson is a great preacher: clear, audible, logical,
rooted in scripture and Christian tradition. This was core Christianity;
I was expecting something more liberal.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
"Paradox Sunday." The joy of Palm Sunday contrasts sharply with
the pain of the crucifixion. After the triumph of the procession, we hear
the passion story. Bringing both together is an important part of Christianity.
Society and some churches only seem to want celebration. The German theologian
Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against "cheap grace." We cannot claim
to be a Christian nation if we bask in the self indulgence of a prosperity
gospel without addressing serious social problems. We need to return to basics and heed
Jesus' summary of the law and prophets by loving God through loving neighbor.
Filled with the Spirit, we should walk with Jesus through Holy Week. By
seeking Jesus out this week, we will better celebrate Easter at the other
Which part of the service was like being in
The Super Sonic Samba School – especially their joyful performance
at the end of the procession. Also the motets and Passion sung by the choir.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well... the Super Sonic Samba School – for some it might seem too much
fun or just a bit irreligious. Also the motets and passion sung by the choir
– it seemed to me they lacked a bit of sparkle that morning. I am
told that they can be better. Maybe the little boy with his fingers in his
ears knew something that we didn't.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We went up to the great hall and spoke to a number of folks. I had to make
the initial move, but having done so most people proved friendly enough.
One of the greeters made the first move in a longer conversation.
How would you describe the after-service
American coffee (well this isn't Milan, and after a long service it tasted
good), both regular and decaffeinated. There were also several kinds of
juice, cakes, biscuits – in short, quite a spread. I don't know if
it was fair trade, but fair trade was on sale at a stall next to the welcome
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I lived here I should be very interested in spite of my more conservative background.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so. I was pleased to see such a contrast in worship style between
the samba school and traditional choral items.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hopefully the sermon (it will be published on the website) but probably
the samba dancers.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.