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2967: St James, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, USA
St James, Sault Ste Marie, MI (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Meet and Right So to Do.
The church: St James, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Northern Michigan.
The building: St James is an Edwardian-era Gothic Revival church of the red sandstone native to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was designed by James C. Teague, a journeyman architect whose other works can be found in Virginia, Washington, Montana, Texas, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. The cruciform-shaped, eastward-facing church has 41 stained-glass windows, including four Tiffany pictorial windows, and features a chapel in each transept, a stately organ in the chancel, and a high altar that sits underneath a carved wooden reredos and serves as the backdrop for a much simpler free-standing altar with a versus populum orientation. The north wall of the quire features an elaborately carved bishop's chair worthy of a cathedral. The chimes, consisting of 11 bells housed in the tower, were donated in 1906 by Chase Osborn, a press baron and politician who would later be elected governor of Michigan.
The church: St James was established as a parish in 1885, although the first Anglican clergy in this area of present-day Michigan would have been chaplains attached to garrisons at two forts in the early 19th century. As with most parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, the parish lacks what the diocese calls "professional" or "imported" clergy. As a result, several congregants of St James have undergone training to be ordained within the parish's metes and bounds on what is called a ministry support team. Despite its small size in a non-growing diocese, the congregation is active, with the parish chapter of Episcopal Church Women hosting an annual bazaar. There is also a study group that is presently reading The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic by John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal bishop of Newark. Other activities include the publishing of a weekly newsletter, monthly pancake breakfasts, and outreach into the community in keeping with the diocese's social justice emphasis.
The neighborhood: A border city, Sault (pronounced Soo) Ste Marie (population 14,144) sits across the St Mary's River from the Canadian province of Ontario and its much larger twin city of Sault Ste Marie (population 75,141). The undivided Sault Ste Marie dates to the late 17th century, when it was first charted by a French Jesuit missionary-cum-explorer. It later became the site of a French colonial fur trading settlement that continued under the British until the US border with Canada was resolved after the War of 1812. Beginning in the 1850s, the city became a vital port of call with the construction of the Sault Locks (also known as the Soo Locks) that enabled maritime vessels laden with timber and minerals to travel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, thus bypassing the rapids that gave the city its name (the word sault in 17th century French meant "rapids"). Sault Ste Marie's population and, by extension, economy have fallen continuously since their peak in 1960. Today, it is heavily dependent upon Lake Superior State University – one of Michigan's public universities; a large hospital; a regionally important Coast Guard base; and two nearby Native American tribal casinos. Located in the downtown area, St James is about two blocks off the main street and two blocks from a county courthouse notable for its Second Empire architectural style. Only blocks from St James is the Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary, the third oldest Roman Catholic parish in the United States. Canadian Sault Ste Marie is home to St Luke's Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and the Roman Catholic Precious Blood Cathedral.
The cast: The Revd Cathy Clark, ministry developer for the Huron District of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, celebrated. She wore a simple hooded alb under a white stole, which featured multi-color geometric decorations at the ends, and cincture. She was assisted by the Revd Deacon Dawn Aldrich, likewise attired except her alb lacked a hood. The organist, listed in the order of service as Robert Aldrich, may have been the Revd Bob Aldrich, who is listed on the roster of the ministry support team, as he wore a clerical collar underneath an alb and cincture. The lay preacher was Carla Sare.
The date & time: Second Sunday after Christmas, January 3, 2016, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Mostly empty, with about 25 people, including ministers and congregants, scattered across a nave and chancel that could easily accommodate nearly 400 worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
From the street it was unclear which door to use, so I sat in my car and waited for someone else to arrive so I could see which entrance they selected. Sure enough, someone came along and headed toward the south porch, which seemed to have the only open door. I entered about five minutes before the service. The organ prelude was already underway and the processional party was standing in place at the back of the nave. It didn't seem like they were used to visitors, as the two older ladies serving as ushers took a moment or two to react to the sight of a newcomer. I made it to a pew before one of them walked toward me, asking if I wanted "a program." As one of the ladies handed me the order of service, which contained an insert with the readings and psalm appointed for the day, I was wished a good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pews, which looked to be original to the church's construction, were actually quite comfortable and had generous legroom. The fold-down kneelers had thick padding covered in what appeared to be vinyl.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Extremely reverent and sober.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The liturgy was taken from Rite II of the Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer, with Form III of the prayers of the people and version A of the great thanksgiving used alongside a couple of home-brew liturgical additions that weren't unusual for any contemporary language Anglican service. The Hymnal 1982 was used for the processional hymn, the hymn before and after the gospel reading, and offertory and recessional hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ was all but unaccompanied, as only a couple of faint – and even then, very soft, almost whispering – voices could be heard singing. The 2,200-pipe organ, built by the Wicks Pipe Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, was installed in 1927 to replace a circa 1886 organ from the first church erected by the parish.

Did anything distract you?
The constant hissing of the heating radiators, which would have been minimized if the congregation were more confident in its vocal abilities.

St James, Sault Ste Marie, MI (Window)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly typical of what one gets at an Episcopal parish with Rite II liturgy. The worship wasn't unfamiliar even for a traditionalist, as all but one of the congregants knelt at the appropriate moments in the liturgy as opposed to the standing that is more typical with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. While it encroached upon stiffer churchmanship, it was flexible enough to allow for spontaneous interjections by congregants during the announcements, listed as "parish moments" in the order of service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – A poor microphone and sound system made it difficult for the preacher's voice to overcome the hissing sound of the heating radiators. It also didn't help that Mrs Sare read her prepared text at a rather fast pace.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a quick overview of the readings, drawing upon the massacre of the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family seeking refuge in Egypt, and the arrival of the three Wise Men. She ended with politics by questioning whether the Holy Family would have been received as refugees by the United States.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Gazing upon the rays of light as they pierced the stained glass windows, particularly the great east window.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The nonexistent singing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was thanked for visiting by the deacon, who invited me to the undercroft for coffee and treats. One of the lady ushers asked to sign the guest book and likewise invited me to the undercroft.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had to get on the road, so I politely declined the invitation to head downstairs for coffee hour.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The lack of traditional clergy would take some adjusting to. I would probably want to visit a church or two across the border in the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of Algoma before joining St James.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
If anything, it highlighted the challenges the Episcopal Church and its congregations face.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How, absent a significant increase in attendance and membership, the congregation will sadly go the way of so many and cease to exist as older congregants die off.
 
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