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1789: St Bonaventure, Manomet, Massachusetts, USA
St Bonaventure, Manomet, Massachusetts, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Andy the Albanian.
The church: St Bonaventure, Manomet, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Boston.
The building: St Bonaventure stands in an open space to the west of Route 3A, the main road that links the disparate parts of the beach community of Manomet. It's a light, airy, open plan building that dates from 1951. The timber frame is visible inside and visually divides the space into nave and aisles. The small sanctuary has a freestanding altar with a dramatic woodcarving covering the back wall and the cross of the resurrected Christ as its centerpiece. In the northeast corner, the space widens out to accommodate musicians.
The church: The parish began life in 1950 in the dining room of a local restaurant. It's now a lively and active parish serving a beach community with a mix of year-round residents, weekenders and holidaymakers.
The neighborhood: Manomet encompasses a string of beach communities to the south of historic Plymouth, landing place of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. They probably wouldn't have expected there to be a thriving Roman Catholic parish here almost 400 years later. Pilgrim Station, the only operating nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, is located in Manomet. The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences conducts original research on various programs such as wildlife, forest and marine conservation.
The cast: The Revd Kenneth C. Overbeck, pastor, celebrated mass, with the assistance of two music leaders whose names weren't announced.
The date & time: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 16, 2009, 11.30am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Greeters aren't really a Roman thing, so we found our own way to our pews. After the opening words of the service, we were invited to greet and welcome our neighbors by name, which everyone duly did.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine. The air conditioning was at just the right level on a hot summer day.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential (the babies will have been at the 10.00 family mass), with very little chat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to St Bonaventure as we prepare to worship our God."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A combination missal and hymnal called Breaking Bread 2009. Not simple to navigate, but very practical for those who know the form.

What musical instruments were played?
Two guitars.

St Bonaventure, Manomet, Massachusetts, USA

Did anything distract you?
The sheer speed with which Father Overbeck galloped through the liturgy was distracting, although amazingly every word was intelligible thanks to his good diction and a good sound system.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mainstream Roman Catholic: modern worship songs and liturgical music in a relaxed atmosphere, but framed by the liturgy of the mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Twelve and a half minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor slowed down his breakneck pace for his homily, and left the sanctuary to speak without notes from the floor. He has an accessible but not dumbed-down style, gimmick-free and very easy to listen to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In a nutshell, the eucharist. In John's gospel, Jesus says that he is the Bread of Life. The epistle reading from Ephesians reminds us that the eucharist was part of the life of the church from earliest times. One of Jesus's first post-resurrection acts was to break bread with his friends. In John's gospel the evangelist develops a consistent message of trust in the God who creates and can recreate. And if Jesus can multiply the loaves and fishes and walk on water, as earlier passages in John tell us, he can surely change bread and wine into his body and blood. And so in the eucharist we receive the all of who Jesus is. All of our ritual around the eucharist is about preserving the institutional memory, reliving the told story of the gospel. In return, we get the great promise of eternal life and Jesus' presence with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was a great sermon. The songs were good, and by Roman standards the congregational singing was good too. I was especially struck by the gusto with which the congregation joined in the Lord's Prayer.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prayer for the "restoration of the sanctity of life and marriage in our Commonwealth." The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was a leader in recognizing gay partnerships. This jarred somewhat with my inclusive Anglican nature.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The building was essentially empty by the end of the final hymn, and there was no one to see me looking lost. I sensed that this church doesn't so much try to draw you into their community as wait for you to step forward for deeper involvement.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – There are a lot of parish activities to get involved with. The preaching is good. There is good lay involvement in worship. And then there's the fact that I would need to live in Manomet with its gorgeous beach on Cape Cod Bay.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely, and specifically glad to "receive the all of who Jesus is" in the mass.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The reminder that in the mass we're entering into 2,000 years of shared experience of Jesus.
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