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1894: All Saints Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
All Saints Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Photo: Cowbark
Mystery Worshipper: Sursum Corda.
The church: All Saints, Ashmont, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Massachusetts.
The building: Rather than try to improve upon the excellent description of All Saints that was given in an earlier MW report, permit me to call the reader's attention to a story that appears on the church's website. The story relates how one Sunday in 1879 Colonel Oliver and Mary Lothrop Peabody, prominent and wealthy Bostonians, were surprised by a sudden snowstorm on their way to their regular Unitarian service. It was snowing so heavily that they decided to stop at All Saints rather than try to continue on. It was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and the rector's sermon struck a particularly resonant chord for the Peabodys, who had recently lost a child. The next Sunday the Peabodys returned to All Saints, and when the service was over Colonel Peabody pressed a princely sum for the poor into the hand of the stunned rector. They never again returned to their Unitarian chapel, but rather received instruction and were confirmed. In time Colonel Peabody was appointed to the vestry, where his skills as an investment banker as well as his generosity soon made it possible for the parish to build a new church. The cornerstone for the resulting structure was laid on November 9, 1892. After Colonel Peabody's death, his widow continued the tradition of her husband's generosity, thus making possible the church's fine interior appointments.
The church: From its earliest beginnings, the parish has been committed to the principles of the Oxford Movement. They believe in (quoting from their website) "strong orthodox teaching and preaching, supportive pastoral care, a caring parish family, and responsibility to our community and the greater world." Morning prayer is read, and both low and high masses are celebrated each Sunday. Adult Christian education is also offered. There are three masses during the week.
The neighborhood: The church is in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, named after its English counterpart in Dorset. It is a large working class community with an eclectic population of Irish, African, Caribbean, Latino and Asian descent. Recently there has been an influx of young working professionals, gay men, and working artists to the neighborhood, adding to its diversity.The area around the church is a nice, quiet, rather hilly residential district. Boston had been blanketed by an overnight snowstorm with over a foot of lovely powdery snow. The Peabodys were surely smiling down from heaven. It looked grand on this crisp first Sunday of the new year.
The cast: I am not sure who the celebrant was. The Revd Michael J. Godderz, rector, assisted as deacon and preached the sermon. Elisabeth Gray, interim organist and master of the choristers, conducted a choir of boys and men comprised all (with one exception) of African-American singers. Clarence Chaisson, a talented young man all of 17 years old, presided at the organ.
The date & time: Sunday, January 3, 2010, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.

How full was the building?
About 50 people – one-third (so I was told) of the usual attendance. Understandable under the circumstances.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two greeters handed us service bulletins with a cheerful "Happy new year!"

Was your pew comfortable?
Fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The plainsong introit was intoned by the choir: "The shepherds came with haste and found Mary and Joseph."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Anglican Service Book and the Hymnal 1940.

What musical instruments were played?
The organs. The nave organ is a tracker instrument, an opus of CB Fisk, Inc., of Gloucester, Massachusetts; the chancel organ is by the highly regarded 19th century Hutchings firm.

Did anything distract you?
The presence of two organs the nave organ, in a large gallery at the back, gave firm support to the congregational part of the service, and the chancel organ nicely accompanied the choir. A very pleasant kind of distraction, I might add.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Anglo-Catholicism at its best very formal.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Godderz is an excellent speaker, upbeat and energetic. He spoke from the sanctuary steps without notes. He had one slight eccentricity: he would appear to stare at his shoes when considering what his next point would be.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Godderz preached on the gospel reading for the day, Matthew 2:13-15,19-23 (the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt). He noted that the Wise Men had left. "But they'll be back for Epiphany," he said. Referring to the fact that the events narrated by Matthew took place after Epiphany, which was still three days off, he said that sometimes things don't line up. He mentioned a "temporal cycle" and a "sanctoral cycle." This is the last we hear of the Magi. Matthew tried hard to straighten out an apparent jumble of Old Testament prophecies: Micah's prophecy that from Bethlehem would come a ruler "who is to shepherd my people Israel," followed by Hosea's "Out of Egypt have I called my son," and ending up with Isaiah's reference to a Nazarene. Our lives can be a jumble, too. We can't know how all the pieces will fit together. Jesus' life was hardly the one the prophets had imagined. Thirty years in complete obscurity was not what many were expecting of their Messiah. But like them, we should hold fast to God's faithfulness and put our trust in him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sight and sound of a choir of eight men and seven boys who had braved a fairly major snowstorm to give us a beautiful rendering of the Communion Service in F by William Henry Harris, the prolific composer of anthems, canticles, hymns and psalm chants. And the acolytes were absolutely superb, wonderfully expressionless, and moved in regimented unison.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two of the most unlikely and ugly imitations of Christmas trees flanked the entrance to the sanctuary. They looked for all the world like miniature versions of the communications towers that are dressed up to look like living conifers. We're not fooled by them, and we were in no way tricked into believing that these concoctions had sprung out of God's good earth!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were immediately pointed in the direction of the coffee hour.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Excellent. Coffee was served in nice cardboard (recyclable!) cups. Two homemade quiches and a delicious fruit salad (oranges, grapefruit and coconut) were on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – No hesitation from me if I were to move to the Boston area.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stark contrast between the long lists of church services on the local television channels cancelled because of the overnight snowstorm, and the 50 people who came together to celebrate a beautiful solemn mass.
 
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