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|2481: St John's,
Mobile, Alabama, USA
Worshipper: Preacher's Kid.
Mobile, Alabama, USA.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of the Central Gulf Coast.
The present building dates from 1956 and replaces a wooden structure
that stood for over 100 years. It is a hall church with no transepts.
The chancel is a narrowed space and was contemporary for its
day: laminated beams forming a Gothic arch. The sacristy is
on the left and the choir and organ on the right. The ceiling
is lined with what appears to be acoustical tile. As a result,
the room is completely dead, requiring electronic amplification
for even the loudest crescendo from the choir. In the rear,
on each side of a smallish narthex, are a chapel and the baptistery
with a beautiful carved font. It is apparent that the chancel
furniture and the altar came from the original church, as did
the altar piece, which is back-lit stained glass.
Billing itself as Anglo-Catholic – and probably the only one
between New Orleans and Jacksonville – St John's celebrates
a sung mass each Sunday and morning prayer each weekday, with
a eucharist on Wednesdays as well. They sponsor Women in the
Church and Men in the Church, plus Christian formation classes
for children, teens and adults.
Although originally established by French Canadians (or, better
put, French from New France), Mobile became a part of Spanish
West Florida after the War of 1812, and part of the United States
when Spain ceded its Florida provinces in 1820. The culture
of Mobile, like most of the historic coastal cities that were
under significant Spanish and French control, is historically
and predominantly influenced by its Roman Catholic heritage.
In point of fact, Mobile is where Mardi Gras began as a seasonal
celebration in the South. Mobile still retains some of its grand
boulevards lined with massive oak trees that form a tunnel for
pedestrian and auto traffic. Antebellum homes, stately hotels
and churches of all denominations line Government Boulevard,
one of the most scenic avenues in the South.
The Revd Thomas Heard, rector; The Revd Deacon Jayne Carson;
Louis F. Daniel, organist and choirmaster. Lay readers, crucifer
and thurifer were not named.
The date & time:
The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 6, 2013, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church appears to seat between 175 and 225 people, but there
were fewer than 75 people there, most of whom sat on the back
three rows. The congregation appeared to be comprised totally
of grandparents and perhaps great–grandparents. Young
families with children were conspicuous by their absence.
Did anyone welcome you
I was greeted by a gentleman who later read the first lesson.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew certainly a different purchase from the chancel
furniture was quite comfortable, although the kneeler
could have used a bit more padding.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
This is one of those churches where everyone talks to everyone
else, and not in stage whispers. Everyone talked during the
organist's voluntary and no one quieted down until the commencement
of the entrance rite. The Westminster Chime rang out from the
steeple. I've heard plenty of electronic bells in my time, some
good, some bad, but I am sure that these bells are real
or else they are very good electronic ones.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" chanted
by the rector.
What books did the congregation use during the
The complete service was contained in a leaflet, including the
settings for the psalm and chants. However, the Hymnal 1982
was required for singing.
What musical instruments
The church's antique Kimball pipe organ, probably transplanted
from the old church.
Did anything distract
The incessant talking and visiting prior to the service and
during the choir's respectable rendition of the contemporary
English composer Malcolm Archer's setting of Brightest and
Best. But the biggest distraction was discovering that
one of the stained glass windows had been given in memory of
one of my relatives someone I hadn’t thought of
in 40 years.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Although the Kid equates Anglo-Catholic worship with high church,
it was hard to tell whether St John’s was low church with overtones
of high, or the opposite. To be sure, no noses bled. The thurible
was not carried in procession even though incense was used at
all the customary places. But the use of Rite II in an Anglo-Catholic
service is, to the Kid, an oxymoron. Or perhaps these folks
are adherents to Vatican II. The service was almost entirely
chanted, including an Anglican chant setting for the psalm.
The celebrant (not the deacon!) chanted the gospel fom the center
of the congregation.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 The rector read his sermon and was clear and understandable,
although the Kid didn't think the sermon itself was particularly
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
History cannot be certain as to how many Magi came to visit
the baby Jesus. Were there three, or only two? We assume three
because the three gifts are mentioned by name. At any rate,
the Magi disobeyed King Herod, but in doing so they protected
Which part of the service was like being in
Under any circumstances it is pleasing to see the use of incense
and to participate in a sung service, albeit Rite II.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The passing of the peace was a disaster. People gossiped, walked
up and down the center aisle greeting each other, and even (if
the Kid's ears did not deceive him) placed bets on an upcoming
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the choristers introduced herself to me and invited me
to coffee. The gentleman reader engaged me in conversation,
and one lady insisted that she "knew me from somewhere."
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee was served in in mugs, and it was quite good; however,
no extra goodies were to be found.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 The Kid prefers a Rite I service where the congregation
seem more attuned to where they are and why they are there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Westminster Chime and the use of incense.
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