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2489: St Michael the Archangel, Auburn, Alabama, USA
St Michael the Archangel, Auburn, AL (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: William Dewy.
The church: St Michael the Archangel, Auburn, Alabama, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Mobile.
The building: The church building is only three years old and very large. The present building on the north side of Auburn replaces an earlier edifice that was downtown. The worship space is wide and light and spacious. It didnít feel much like a church, as it seemed a vast convention center into which a truck full of church furniture – big crucifix, altar, and font – had been delivered. Four statues of kneeling angels decorated the front of the church, but they seemed rather small in all that space. Two hotel palms were present, but altar flowers were conspicuously absent. The narthex, in contrast to the church, was quite pretty. Several colorful stained glass windows, one supposes from the old building, adorned the walls. I felt much more like I was in a holy and prayerful place in the hallway than I did in the nave.
The church: They state on their website that they are "a unique mixture of resident families and students, all sharing space under one roof." They maintain a campus ministry at Auburn University as well as all the usual parish organizations that are listed on their website. As such, the church seemed typical of a "gown town" church, as many college students were present.
The neighborhood: Auburn, Alabama is a city of 53,000 persons in east Alabama. The city fancies itself "the loveliest village on the Plains," a reference to the Auburn mentioned by Oliver Goldsmith in his poem "The Deserted Village." The land was open to settlement in 1832, so the city elders did a bit of backdating with their motto. Auburn is home to Auburn University, a land grant university with strong programs in engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine. The university is a principal employer of the community. College football dominates as the prevalent secular religion. When the iconic oak trees at Toomerís Corner were poisoned by a fan of a rival football team in 2011, there was an outpouring of concern and suggestion to save the trees. The trees, however, will not survive and will have to be removed. Typically, the oak trees were "rolled" or covered with toilet paper after a big football victory or other event of extreme significance.
The cast: The Revd Victor P. Ingalls, associate pastor, was celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Saturday, January 19, 2013, 5.00pm.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Vigil Mass.

How full was the building?
Rather full without being packed. I would guess that 250 people were present, but there might have been fewer. Most of the faithful staked a claim to their space right on the aisle, so it was difficult to find a place to sit without crawling over another worshipper.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Nothing before the service. I got friendly greetings during the passing of the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?
The standard wooden pew and kneeler were comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a guest speaker from Catholic Charities making an appeal for contributions before mass. People continued to enter and mill about finding their places during the presentation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to Saint Michaelís."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Heritage Missal 2013.

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic keyboard and another organ-like appliance, each very well played and conducive to congregational singing.

Did anything distract you?
The sound system distracted me. Specifically, I felt as if I was listening to a recording rather than attending a live event. The priest wore a headset wireless microphone and there were microphones at the readerís and cantorís lecterns, but I couldnít tell from where the sound was coming. The organ, too, didnít sound so much like an organ as like a recording of an organ. After the service, the organist told me that the appliance produced digital renderings of pipe organ tones.

St Michael the Archangel, Auburn, AL (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a little happy clappy for my taste. The Dan Schutte hymns and other musical offerings seemed to come straight from the musical Godspell. The priest had a nice singing voice, but I found the musical setting trite.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The preacher had an easy going style. I didnít have a clear view of him during the homily, as he was on the far side of the chancel and I was on the other side of the nave, but the congregation seemed to respond favorably.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. Father Victor spoke about Jesus calling his mother "woman", and what that might mean in first century Aramaic. He pointed out that "woman" was also the name given to Eve in the Genesis story and the parallels between the first Adam and Eve and the Jesus and Mary as the second Adam and Eve.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The light, which flooded the worship space and enveloped the assembly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The electronic sound, which flooded the worship space and enveloped the assembly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people approached me and asked if I was new to Auburn. I spoke briefly with a cantor and the organist, who were fine ambassadors for the parish. Meanwhile, in the narthex, the priest, who is young and good-looking, was surrounded by throngs of admirers.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The people were welcoming and friendly. I would like a place with more traditional music.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. There was some positive energy.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The vastness of the worship space.
 
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