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2263: St Patrick’s, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA
St Patrick's, Pagosa Springs
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Patrick’s, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Colorado.
The building: A rugged, rustic, half stone, half wood structure with a bell tower made of rough-hewn logs. The interior is bright and sunny thanks to large clear class windows that afford a great view of the scenic surroundings. The gabled ceiling features pine ribbing and beams. Behind the altar is a large stained glass window depicting the Good Shepherd. A pine communion rail separates the altar from the seating area, at the head of which is a pine lectern. Organ, piano and choir seating are off to the left.
The church: They sponsor all the usual groups found in an Episcopal church: men’s fellowship, Daughters of the King, Episcopal Church Women, etc. They contribute to missionary work in New Mexico and Honduras as well as local hospice and food bank organizations.
The neighborhood: Pagosa Springs is a small town in southern Colorado near the New Mexico border, on the western slope of the Continental Divide at an elevation of 7000 feet. It is noted for its sulfur-rich thermal springs, among the largest and hottest in the world, which the Ute Indian tribe called pah gosah, meaning "healing waters". The area’s natural beauty and abundant resources attract visitors year-round for hiking, fishing and rafting in summer, and cross-country and downhill skiing in winter. Many come just to "take the waters." Pagosa Springs also attracts wealthy homeowners seeking second homes, and thus is able to support a variety of art galleries, repertory theatres and museums. The church is located west of downtown in an area we city folk would call the "wide open spaces."
The cast: The Revd Doug Neel, rector, was the celebrant. He was assisted by Sally High, lector; Ron Jyleen and Bill Crouse, acolytes; and Sally Neel, organist.
The date & time: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 23, 2011, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
I counted about 150 chairs and they were mostly all full, but not at first. Only about 35 people were present at the start of the service. But one of the ushers called out, "Time to come in!" whereupon a crowd that had been visiting out in the vestibule made their entrance. Mostly middle aged to older folk; I noticed only one young adult. I also noticed a teenager about whom I'll have more to say in a moment.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter stationed at the door said hello, but no one else in the vestibule greeted me. I helped myself to a service leaflet from a stack on a table.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Individual chairs with detached kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a bit of loud visiting out in the vestibule, but those few souls who had ventured inside sat quietly. The organist played a prelude – a Bach three-part invention, I believe – with admirable technique. The church bell was rung immediately before the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, good morning!" This was followed by the aforementioned grand entrance from the vestibule and a string of seemingly interminable announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book 1979, Hymnal 1982, service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
Nice little electronic organ to accompany the hymns, and grand piano to accompany the choir anthems. There was a choir of five – four ladies and a gentleman – dressed in burgundy robes and gold scarves.

Did anything distract you?
A teenage boy entered wearing a baseball cap and left it on during the entire service. Someone needs to teach him (his parents, perhaps, with whom he was sitting) that gentlemen remove their hats in church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A nicely done said communion, Rite II. The priest was vested in alb and chasuble. One acolyte wore an alb and white girdle, but the other wore an alb, burgundy girdle and burgundy scapular. I wondered about the significance of his special dress, but wondered in vain as I never discovered the reason for it. There was no chanting or incense, but there were bells (well, a gong, anyway) at the sanctus and consecration. We sang the psalm to an Anglican chant setting. The exchange of peace was an extended meet and greet.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The rector glanced down at notes now and then but spoke in a friendly, conversational style that held the congregation’s attention. He inserted a few humorous "in" remarks now and then that were meaningful to the regulars (as they laughed) but meant nothing to this visitor.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The rector spoke primarily on the day’s gospel reading, Matthew 22:34-46 (Jesus reveals the two greatest commandments and confounds the Pharisees who question him). He linked this text to its counterpart in Deuteronomy and said that this simple belief is the most powerful gift of Judaism. Those who questioned Jesus went home looking foolish. Jesus made it clear that all else is based on love of God and love of neighbor as self. From these flow our relationship with God and with all mankind. God is love. We must love all without exception; it doesn’t matter that some may seem more lovable than others. We love because we are loved. Love can hurt and can require sacrifice, but nothing is more important.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organist, Sally Neel, played with a high degree of professionalism and drew wonderful sound out of her little electronic instrument. The hymns were old standards for the most part, and she knew just how to pace them and phrase them to emphasize the meaning of the words.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the choir, I’m afraid, should not be attempting anthems.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people said hello, where are you from, we could sure use you in the choir, please come back again, etc.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
On their website they say that they are "a church that loves to eat." Refreshments were served in the adjoining parish hall, a rustic log cabin type building. Coffee was hot and delicious, and served in ceramic mugs. There were also cookies and a cake to celebrate the service of a church member who was stepping down from a ministry in which she had long served. People continued to come up to me to say hello and to introduce me to others. Out in the parking lot, as we were all leaving, one lady bade me good-bye by name; I was flattered that she remembered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This would be my church for sure if I lived in the area. It is a warm, friendly, active congregation who seem like they really mean it. The service was conducted with dignity even if it was (due to an excess of announcements) a tad on the long side.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The young gentleman who didn’t know enough to remove his hat in church – and the parents who let him get away with it!
 
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