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San Carlos, California, USA
San Carlos, California, USA.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
The church meets in a charming campus of connected buildings.
These are surrounded by beautifully gardened borders that enclose
a small plaza and lawn without cutting the church off from the
neighborhood. The overall effect is lovely. The interior of
the sanctuary features a moderate amount of Gothic decoration
in wood and stone, and reasonably decipherable, minimally detailed
stained glass windows. The comparatively spare parish hall was
built in the 1950s, and the sanctuary in the 1960s; a rectory
was acquired on site in the 1980s.
The church: Elderly white people were overrepresented, though not exclusively so. Everyone seemed to be friends. In fact, my dominant impression of Epiphany was how affectionate the community seemed. During the announcements, the rector very conversationally called up a few people having birthdays and anniversaries, and blessed them at the front of the church.
San Carlos is an affluent community at the northern tip of Silicon
Valley, 20 miles south of San Francisco. One of the smaller
towns along the peninsula, it features perfect weather, a walkable
main street, and modest but expensive houses. Residents seem
to be a mixture of young tech families and the original residents
who bought their homes before the tech boom. The median age
of San Carlos residents is 42. Epiphany is located in a residential
neighborhood about a mile from the center of town.
The Revd Melanie Donahoe, rector, led the service and celebrated.
The sermon was given by a parishioner, Jennifer Kitt. Also assisting
was the Revd Deacon Margaret Dyer Chamberlain.
The date & time:
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 25, 2013, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist and Music.
How full was the building?
At the start of the service it was about 20 per cent full. By
communion time it was about 40 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two greeters smiled, said hello, and made eye contact as they
handed me a program when I entered. The passing of the peace
was a friendly time. I felt welcomed. Most people were sporting
reusable name tags, which I expect has contributed positively
to their familiarity with each other. I did not see where the
name tags came from, so I assume visitors are not made temporary
ones. This is probably just as well, since some visitors might
be intimidated by the prospect.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard, unpadded wooden pew with padded kneelers.
I found it quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was mostly quiet, while a few people talked softly and at length. They seemed to be friends catching up. About five minutes prior to the start of the service, a bell tinkled subtly and the organist/pianist began to play a lovely, meditative prelude on the piano. Conversations continued at the same quiet level.
What were the exact opening words of the
The processional hymn opened the service with "Morning
has broken." The first spoken words followed the hymn and
were "Good morning and welcome to Church of the Epiphany."
What books did the congregation use during the
The pew racks contained the Book of Common Prayer and
the Hymnal 1982. However, the entire service was laid
out in the voluminous weekly program, so those books were not
used. A basic commentary ran alongside the hymns and liturgy
in the program, explaining when to sit and stand, and giving
a bit of background on the parts of the liturgy. The commentary
was concise, well-written, and helpful for a wide variety of
visitors and regulars alike.
What musical instruments
Most of the hymns were skillfully accompanied by an organ, a
digital electronic instrument by the Galanti firm of Mondaino,
Italy. A piano, a classic Steinway grand that accompanied Enrico
Caruso on tour and which bears an inscription by Charles Steinway
himself, was used for the prelude and to accompany the communion
hymn, "Let us break bread together." The offertory
song was a flute solo accompanied by the organ.
Did anything distract
For about five minutes during the sermon, we could hear the
whine of a vacuum cleaner in the adjoining building. Second
– and this was probably a distraction only to me – the offertory
was the Largo movement from Antonín Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony
(the so-called "New World" Symphony), which features
prominently in the soundtrack to the computer game Civilization
V. I could not shake the mental association, and spent several
minutes blissfully imagining where I would send a settler to
plunk down a city if the sanctuary were a terrain map. At least
it was a positive association!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was traditionally arranged 19th century hymns accompanied
by the organ. Some of the participatory bits of liturgy had
been set to music as well. The small congregation sang enthusiastically,
and the excellent acoustics of the sanctuary helped the place
feel fuller. There was no clapping or raising of hands, nor
did the music lend itself to those. The liturgy used was Rite
II, Eucharistic Prayer B, with two notable modifications: first,
gendered pronouns had been replaced with additional instances
of the word "God" when referring to God in general
(as opposed to a specific member of the Trinity). Second, "All
are welcome at God’s table" was added as the final sentence
in the eucharistic liturgy. I took this to indicate that communion
was open to non-Christians as well.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
9 Jennifer Kitt was clearly comfortable with public speaking
and held my attention easily. I was wary of the sermon being
basically an extended testimony (though those have their place),
but she balanced her anecdotes delightfully with teaching and
biblical references. I found the sermon to be interesting, authentic,
grounded, and inspiring.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The sabbath: how time is a gift from God, but we need his help
to receive it as a gift. The sabbath is one way God helps us
with that. It is a song of freedom that God has led his people
in throughout history. There are many ways in which one can
make the sabbath into a day of rest.
Which part of the service was like being in
The piano prelude before the service was beautiful and relaxing.
Second, the light coming through the stained glass was startlingly
colorful. Epiphany’s atmosphere is homey rather than ethereal
(or industrial), and the stained glass helps bend that away
from feeling stale. Third, the option of gluten-free wafers
meant I could partake of Christ’s body in the eucharist.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was disappointing not to see more young people, because they do live in the area. I was also troubled by the theological implications of covenant-free communion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The tide of people carried me to the parish hall, where refreshments were available. Visitors were handed red coffee mugs to mark us out specially. Three or four people in series cornered me good-naturedly and kept me occupied and informed.
How would you describe the after-service
There were bagels, real cheese slices, and tasty grapes laid out on tables, around which people stood and chatted. I did not try the coffee; I looked for herbal tea but did not find any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I was impressed by the camaraderie and thought the service was perfectly reasonable. They have a modest range of monthly activities as well.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. If "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another" (John 13:35) – then it looks like
Epiphany is full of Christ’s disciples.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The colored light streaming through the stained glass windows.
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