St Augustine of Canterbury, Escondido, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Augustine of Canterbury
Location: Escondido, California, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 June 2021, 10:00am

The building

They meet in a tent on the grounds of John Paul the Great Catholic University – a temporary accommodation, I understand, due to the pandemic, while they explore possibilities for a permanent home. What can you say about a tent? White canvas, held up by poles, strung with lights and all sorts of electrical stuff. An eastward-facing altar, festooned with missal, altar cards and candles (which, interestingly, were never lit), stood at one end. To the left was a lectern; to the right, credenza, sedilia and choir seating.

The church

They are a community of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. Their website is a bit vague about parish organizations and activities, but they appear to have an outreach ministry and a catechesis and children’s formation ministry. They participate in Theology on Tap, which (quoting from their website) ‘offers people an opportunity to gather at a local eatery or tavern … [to] break bread together and … [enjoy] good food, fellowship and discussions on contemporary theological topics.’ So far as I could tell, Theology on Tap meets at present only via Zoom. There is one mass each Sunday, before which confessions are heard. Their website also states that vespers are said, but there is no indication of dates or times.

The neighborhood

Escondido (Spanish for ‘hidden’ – something of a step up from its original name, Rincon del Diablo, or ‘Devil's Corner’) is a city about 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, about 30 miles northeast of San Diego. Its name may refer to the fact that the city sits in a valley ringed by hills. Originally a farming community, most of the farmland has been eaten up by residential development. Even so, Escondido is a clean, green, rather pleasant if somewhat sleepy place. The Sprinter light rail line connects Escondido with Oceanside, where rail service is available to San Diego, Los Angeles, and the area east of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire. The campus of John Paul the Great Catholic University is a short walk from the station. It is a small college, founded in 2003, that offers Bachelors degrees in business, communications media, and humanities. The neighborhood around the university appears overrun with cutesy eating and drinking establishments, boutiques, and the like.

The cast

An elderly priest, who I assume was the pastor, celebrated, vested in green and wearing a biretta. He was assisted by a gentleman in cassock and lace surplice who may have been in orders – their website is silent as to who’s who in the parish – and a small boy acolyte in cassock, surplice – and white socks and sneakers! But that wasn’t the worst of the footwear that made Miss Amanda choke – read on!

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?

There were 40 chairs set out; 30 of them were occupied. A young to middle aged crowd; some with small children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Plastic folding chair. It was OK. Small foam kneelers that looked like swimming pool floats were available for the taking for those who wanted them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There wasn't any. I was spending the weekend in Oceanside after a two year pandemic-mandated hiatus. I had the Amandamobile with me – I still won’t go anywhere near an airport let alone get on a plane, especially given the reports we hear of boorish behavior of fellow passengers. Although I am a fan of light rail, I decided to drive the short distance from Oceanside to Escondido. Upon arriving, I had a little trouble finding where the tent was located, but once I found it I entered and sat down. Absolutely nothing was happening.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We sang ‘Love divine, all loves excelling,’ after which the choir chanted the introit for the day.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A handout was available with the ordinary (but not the propers) of the mass and the text of the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Digital keyboard, on which the keyboardist drew an organ stop. There was a choir of two gentlemen and a lady, vested in cassock and surplice. I’ll have more to say about them, especially the lady, directly. The keyboardist was vested in cassock and a floor-length choirmaster’s surplice.

Did anything distract you?

The keyboardist swigged water from a pink bottle and fanned herself with an orange church fan. I hoped it wasn't because she was feeling feverish! At the very least she could have chosen liturgically correct green. The lady chorister was wearing brown combat boots. I found the sight so disgusting I could hardly glance her way. And she saw fit to consult her cell phone during the reading of the epistle. Perhaps she was following along with the text, as no handout of the propers had been supplied. One of the gentlemen choristers hung his glasses on the neckline of his surplice. The priest’s assistant saw me taking pictures and shot me a dirty look – although the other gentleman chorister was taking pictures too; I guess he got shot a blessing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Quoting from their website: ‘The liturgy at St Augustine’s is in the Divine Worship form of the Roman Rite. Sometimes referred to as the "Anglican Use," it is a form of the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church informed by the Anglican patrimony.’ I found it to be an interesting mixture of the Episcopal Prayer Book Rite I (more or less) with the Roman Canon (more or less) added on. There were some interesting touches from the Tridentine Rite: eastward facing celebration; ‘changing the book’ from the epistle side to the gospel side; the celebrant tipping his biretta at the name of Jesus; no exchange of peace, even among the altar party, at the Pax Domini; the Last Gospel being read at the conclusion of mass. Their website states that ‘The English Church has its own distinctive tradition of choral music and hymnody alongside Gregorian chant and polyphony.’ That’s pretty much how the music went: good old traditional Anglican hymns (‘Love Divine,’ ‘The Church’s One Foundation,’ ‘Immortal, Invisible'). Naturally the congregation didn’t sing – they’re Catholics, you see. There was quite a bit of chanting, primarily to Gregorian psalm tones, although the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were to traditional Anglican settings. Again quoting from their website, communion is limited to persons ‘in communion with the See of St Peter … [and] in a state of grace.’ Communion was under the species of bread only, ministered on the tongue, with the acolyte holding a paten under the chin of each communicant. I did not receive.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The pastor delivered a scholarly and well researched sermon, looking down at his notes from time to time but not reading from them. I found his thesis interesting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was Mark 5:21-43 (Jesus cures a woman who suffered bleeding and raises a young girl from the dead). Both the woman with hemorrhages and the dead girl needed healing. Jesus told them to have faith. But faith in what? Jesus did not say. Not having faith is not having life, not having a future. The saddest people of all are those who have nothing to believe in. Having no faith leads to dysfunction, unhappiness. What do we need to be healed of today? Cynicism and malaise are epidemic. We suffer from a minimalist view of the human person – reality reduced to the tangible. But such a view doesn’t answer all the questions, and what answers there are do not satisfy. Inspiration is needed – having your antennae out, picking up signals. This is not much different from faith. Jesus is the ultimate source of all inspiration. We’re not dead – just asleep!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Singing those old favorite hymns was heavenly, even if the choir and Miss Amanda were the only ones singing. And the interesting mixture of Prayer Book and Roman Missal, I thought, brought out the best of both.

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

Drag that choir lady to a shoe store and get her a pair of shoes that won’t make Jesus and his Blessed Mother weep – and Miss Amanda gag. And take that little altar boy in tow with you while you’re at it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nothing. Quoting yet again from their website: ‘Hospitality and community are key aspects to our particular patrimony and parochial culture ... “Coffee hour” after Mass is something like an eighth sacrament. All people are welcome.’ But I saw no evidence of a coffee hour, and none had been announced nor had any invitations been extended. No one seemed to notice me, so I left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 — I found the mass interesting and the music inspiring, but I don’t live in the area.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

That choir lady! It’s not a memory that I will cherish.

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