Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego
Church: St Aidan's
Location: Machias, Maine, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 August 2008, 9:00am
The congregation first met in a funeral parlor (some of the church's metal folding chairs survive those days), and then in a grange hall, and finally at its present location but in an earlier building. The present building was consecrated in 1985 and sits on a green knoll with stone steps ascending to the entrance. If one did not know the building's history, one might conclude that it was probably not designed to be a church, but took on that role after it had been built. Construction appears rather boiler-plate – pre-cast concrete with exposed brick in the interior. The church is oddly shaped, with the roof rising to a peak but with the left side appearing taller than the right. On the right, a bell tower with slanted roof complements the additional height to the left. The grounds seemed rather unkempt; I don’t recall any landscaping. The interior is very shallow, with only three or four rows of chairs. The furnishings are simple and straightforward with a lovely – if unfinished – painting over the altar which, when completed, will depict the risen Christ with Calvary and the Via Dolorosa in the background.
St Aidan's appears to draw worshippers from all parts of the surrounding area. Morning prayer is said on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, and the eucharist is celebrated at 9.00am each Sunday. They serve lunch every other Wednesday to clients of the DownEast AIDS Network and are an occasional meeting place for the Machias Rotary Club. They also sponsor a church school.
The picturesque little town of Machias derives its name from a Native American word meaning "bad little waterfall." The falls still run furiously to this day and can be viewed from a bridge leading into the heart of town. The state of Maine produces nearly 85 percent of the world's blueberries, and Machias is known as the blueberry capital of the world. The town holds its Wild Blueberry Festival each August, featuring a parade, food, crafts and fine art by regional artists, live music, and children's activities. The University of Maine's Machias campus is located here, not far from St Aidan's Church.
The Revd Richard Gilchrist was celebrant and preacher. The bulletin included a welcoming note for Father Gilchrist, and I understand he subsequently accepted an appointment as priest in charge.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist
How full was the building?
Almost full – around 30 worshippers. We seemed like a pretty average bunch of Anglicans, middle-aged with a fair smattering of ex-pats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We entered to find ourselves on the gospel side of the altar, and so we were sure that we were attempting to enter through the wrong door. Our hesitation attracted the attention of someone who encouraged us to proceed into what was really the sanctuary.
Was your pew comfortable?
Perfectly fine wooden chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A bit chatty, but not overly noisy.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. The service is found on page ..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
A pretty basic electronic organ.
Did anything distract you?
We felt oddly conspicuous in these very confined surroundings. It felt as if we were attending mass in a house rather than a church setting. Everything was so close that you could almost reach out and touch it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Respectable, middle-of-the-way Anglican, straight out of the Prayer Book – no smells, no bells, no vestments. Apart from the hymns, the gloria and the sanctus, everything was spoken. There were no lay readers. Everyone seemed attentive and worshipful, although I should think that the stigma of non-participation in such a confined space would be enough to discourage anyone from not giving themselves over entirely to the matter in hand. At the exchange of peace, everyone greeted everyone I sensed that the health and well-being of relatives and neighbors were part of the dialogue. (I personally hate such excesses, so I tend to stay uncharacteristically tight-lipped during these interchanges.) The service ended with announcements, which were on the whole incomprehensible to a visitor, but they segued nicely into coffee hour.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Gilchrist used notes, but spoke extemporaneously. He had various ideas he wanted to get across, and although the sermon as a whole seemed a bit disjointed, he communicated pretty well with a kind of “fireside chat” style of speaking. There were no “aha” moments. While he didn’t generate much excitement, on the other hand he wasn’t at all boring.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
With the gospel story of Our Lord quelling the storm on Galilee as his theme, Father Gilchrist talked about things that unnerved us, citing the example of a television channel that doesn't work. Like the disciples in the storm, we are anxious when things don't turn out the way we expect them to. Father pointed out that Jesus didn't actually calm the storm, but rather he simply said, "Take heart. It is I." In effect, he challenged the disciples. Today he still reaches out his hand and requires change from us, so that he can guide us through life's storms.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The intimacy of being so close to fellow Christians gathered around the holy table.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music left a lot to be desired, but we all soldiered on through the hymns despite, rather than because of, the musical accompaniments! The organist's harmonies were a good deal simpler than those indicated in the hymnal.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Looking lost was an impossibility in such a confined setting. We were "set upon" to join the crowd for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee hour morphed into a spectacular English-type breakfast in a local hostelry. We were lured there by references to the delicious "snorkers" served at this particular restaurant. Judging from the source of the recommendation, we were obviously dealing with British slang. In any event, the "snorkers" turned out to be rather good pork sausage links!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – There's no Anglican alternative in this part of Maine. Something a little less intensely social would appeal to me, something a little quieter and calmer, something more meditative.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The bacon, egg, muffins and "snorkers"!