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2909: St George's, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
St George, New Orleans (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Boat Boy.
The church: St George's, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Louisiana.
The building: The congregation began in 1858 as a mission and was incorporated the next year as Emmanuel Church. But they split in 1871, the breakaway group forming St Mark's Church. By 1874 both congregations were deeply in debt and their property was seized. They decided at that time to bury their differences and form a new parish, St George's, and to look into funding a new building. The cornerstone was laid in 1899 and the church was dedicated the next year. It is a traditional red brick building with tower and a long aisle that makes it a popular wedding venue. The inside features red carpeting, a dark wood beamed ceiling, and cream colored walls. Proscenium arches frame the altar. There is some fine stained glass. Recent renovations were done with the goal in mind of making the church a welcoming, friendly place – although whether or not they do so will be discussed below.
The church: There is a school, St George's School, associated with the parish, that has an excellent reputation. There are several youth programs offered. They run the Dragon Cafe, which serves breakfast each Sunday to (quoting from their website) "anyone who is hungry." There are two services each Sunday.
The neighborhood: They are located at the corner of St Charles Avenue and Cadiz Street in what is called the Garden District. Once the site of large plantations, the area was subdivided and sold off to wealthy residents who built elaborate mansions surrounded by spacious gardens. Several of the old homes have been carefully preserved and restored. On relatively high ground, the Garden District escaped the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The St Charles streetcar line, the oldest continually operating line in the world, runs directly in front of the church.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Richard B. Easterling, rector. Dianne Castano was the acolyte.
The date & time: August 16, 2015, 10.30am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite II.

How full was the building?
about 35 per cent occupied, maybe 75 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two people standing at the entrance door. Neither spoke to me, although one thrust a leaflet toward me without interrupting his conversation with the other. At the peace, the person in front extended her hand but did not say anything. No one else spoke to me at any time.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard pew, intricately carved, of a comfort level that should result in its being banned from Christendom!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we awaited the start, there was a great deal of ambling around by members of the robed choir. People greeted each other in a robust manner while ignoring the stranger in their midst. Several babies cried, but that at least gave the place some semblance of life.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
No words were spoken. The organist struck up the opening hymn, which, irony of ironies, was "We're Marching to Zion" – no one seemed to be marching anywhere, though! After this was sung, the priest went straight into the collect for purity without any discernable break or introduction.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer 1979, the Hymnal 1982, and Lift Every Voice and Sing. There was also a service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ and a piano, separately played by the organist. The organ is basically Opus 10377 of the Moeller Pipe Organ Company, as restored and digitally augmented in 2003 by Johannus Organ Works of Ede, Holland.

Did anything distract you?
The organ console was to my right and the choir quite a distance away, so the organist seemed constantly to be gesticulating to them. Also, there was a constant movement of children all about the church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I guess it was broad-church Anglican. Their website describes their worship style as "not too high and not too low ... [but] anything but passive." Vestments were worn, choir was robed, bell sounded at Sanctus. The priest had good Catholic hand actions.

St George, New Orleans (Window)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The rector preached extemporaneously but seemed quite well prepared. It was distracting that he walked up and down in the aisle (the pulpit seemed fenced off).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Early Christians were accused of cannibalism. The communion service was actually a secret thing for hundreds of years in the early Church. Justin the Martyr was a passionate defender of Christian ways, making clear what was really going on in worship. He silenced the critics. Jesus did likewise – he silenced his critics who wondered what he meant by "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life." He did not, however, explain the mechanics of the eucharist. We do not need to know those mechanics in order to experience the mystery of the eucharist. But how are we nourished by the eucharist – empowered to do God's work? The eucharist sends us to new and different places, as the apostles and evangelists of old were sent. It is the food that sustains us – but we can't live by reflecting on past meals. Our understanding of the eucharist is a part of what God is doing in our lives. It's a difficult message to hear at times. The Church will be judged on whether or not it remains true to Christ's gospel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not much!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of welcome was amazing! Not even in the notices did the priest welcome people. There was no sense of joy or occasion, just something to be got through. The notices seemed to drone on and on, something about Christmas ornaments.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat in my pew for a few moments as people exited. Nothing happened. Then I moved to the back. People bustled around me, but again no interaction. I walked out to the door – a choir person nodded wordlessly to me. The newsletter announced that following the service there would be "a time of communion and sharing of treats." But these were obviously for those in the know, as no one invited me and I could not figure out where such gaiety might be taking place. There may have been a secret tunnel, for all I knew!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Not known.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I don't want to go where I'm not welcome.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. It really annoyed me! The website says, "St George’s, like our city, is a place of laughter, nourishment and celebration." They might want to edit that.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That there are infinitely more welcoming places only a short walk away.
 
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