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  1421: St Mary of the Angels, Orlando, Florida, USA

St Mary of the Angels, Orlando, Florida

Mystery Worshipper: First Apostle.
The church: St Mary of the Angels, Orlando, Florida, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church.
The building: A collection of late 1950s and 60s buildings, including a small, modern church, parish hall, offices and classrooms. The church is wooden and has small stained glass windows on the inside. Not particularly memorable.
The church: St Mary's is a multi-cultural parish with Sunday masses in English, Spanish and French. In addition to the rector, they have a vicar for Spanish ministries and a vicar for Haitian ministries. The church sponsors religious education classes, a youth group, and a Daughters of the King chapter, including a Junior Daughters contingency.
The neighborhood: Orlando is a popular tourist destination, with Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Orlando among its many attractions. The church is in a quiet residential area not far from downtown Orlando. There are large numbers of Hispanic and Haitian immigrants in the surrounding areas.
The cast: The Revd John J. Leahy, rector, celebrated and preached. The Revd Deacon Edward Horton read the gospel. A young man named Mario Bardowell read the lessons and served as master of ceremonies.
The date & time: Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Celebration of Holy Eucharist – Rite II.

How full was the building?
Almost completely full. I would estimate close to 150 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Again and again! First the rector, then the appointed greeter welcomed us on the way in and gave us service sheets. The peace was particularly friendly and welcoming, and several people came over to talk during coffee hour. This is a very friendly church!

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite comfortable. They even had padded upholstery for the back.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very chatty, a few crying babies, and choir practice still going on when we came in. Things calmed down right before the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We begin on page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982, printed service sheet with the readings, psalm, and a couple of additional hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ, a three manual Allen electronic instrument. There were a piano, drums, and some other percussion instruments nearby but they were not used for this particular service. The 12-member choir did a nice job.

Did anything distract you?
There weren't enough hymnals, and while to some people sharing a hymnal would increase the sense of belonging, to me it was a distraction. A phone went off behind us at one point as well. Otherwise I was able to focus nicely.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modern informal Anglo-Catholic. The celebrant wore a chasuble and the deacon a dalmatic, both rather ordinary. There were bells and incense, and everyone seemed to have the choreography down pat, but the mood was very relaxed. Everyone was smiling, and it didn't appear that anyone would mind if someone made a mistake.

St Mary of the Angels, Orlando, Florida

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Leahy has a strong New England accent that made his sermon a lot of fun to listen to. He didn't appear to be using any notes, but at one point started flipping through a Bible to rattle off some quotes to support his points. The last few minutes were a bit rambling; perhaps he should have stopped while he was ahead. I normally prefer a more polished sermon (particularly on Easter Sunday), but his accent was so enjoyable that I didn't really mind much.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Many of us like Jesus in the crib better than Jesus on the cross. But every aspect of the Easter story was necessary.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The unparalleled diversity and warmth of the congregation. There were people of all age groups and races worshiping together. They even have a special time set aside to recognize visitors and people with birthdays. I decided to lay low and not risk blowing my cover, but many new people stood up and seemed to be genuinely wanted there. One woman whose father had died that week stood up to thank everyone for being so supportive. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. It was clear that God was in that place and that those people had a model worship community.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prolonged censing at the offertory. I know the rubrics call for censing everyone in the sanctuary and then the congregation as a whole, but the thurifer moved so very slowly and seemed to be shooting smoke at each server individually. Had the offertory hymn been extended to cover the proceedings it might have been tolerable, but the music had concluded ages ago and the censing was done in silence. I've never seen anything so strange, and it just about derailed the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One or two people commented in my general direction while walking out, and the priest invited us to coffee hour. There several people came over and introduced themselves. Welcoming really is the name of the game at this church!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Freshly brewed with real milk on hand to add in. There were even some leftover breakfast sandwiches and pastries from the pre-service breakfast. A very impressive coffee hour spread.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I didn't have strong commitments at another church, I would definitely make the move.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely! This mass was the best Episcopalian service I've experienced in a long time.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The priest's charming New England accent.
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