Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: St Francis of Assisi
Location: Ooltewah, Tennessee, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 May 2020, 10:00am
This is a relatively new parish, founded as a mission in 1991 and worshipping at first in the old county courthouse and later in a local school. Ground for their present building was broken in January 1995, in the driving rain, and the building was completed that same year. It is a rustic looking church with a stone foundation. A bell tower was added in 2003, and a 27 bell carillon was dedicated in 2007. The carillon is played via a mechanical action without electrical assistance. The interior is sparse, with white walls and chairs arranged in a diamond pattern around the altar. Money is currently being raised for a building project that will expand the sanctuary and add a kitchen and meeting rooms.
The mission was elevated to the status of parish in 2003. In good times they sponsor a full range of men’s, women’s, children’s and youth ministries all described on their website, as well as outreaches to local charities. Today’s service was live-streamed on their Facebook page.
Ooltewah, a tiny enclave in the southeastern corner of Tennessee on the border with Georgia, is a suburb of Chattanooga. Several explanations exist for the origin of its name; the one that most locals believe is that it is a Creek Indian word meaning ‘owl’s nest.’ With easy access to Chattanooga, Ooltewah is a pleasant bedroom community with a reasonable cost of living.
The rector and deacon, vested in cassock and surplice. The deacon wore a white deacon’s stole, but the rector wore an academic hood, no stole. She donned a tippet about halfway through the service. There were two women and a gentleman present in the congregation, spaced socially distant from each other. The readings were given by two gentlemen who were dubbed in from another location. The sermon was preached by a gentleman who was not identified, sitting at home in front of his fireplace.
What was the name of the service?Morning Prayer.
How full was the building?
The on-line counter reached 26 at its highest point.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was fine.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I sat expectantly at my desk in solitude waiting for the Facebook feed to begin.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We opened with the hymn ‘Good Christians all, rejoice.’ Then: ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Three – count ’em, three – PDF files were available for download: one entitled Morning Prayer, Rite Two, copied under license from the Prayer Book 1979; another with words and music to the three hymns that would be sung; and a third entitled The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. It was a bit of a juggle to keep all three open on my computer while also having my draft MW report open – not to mention the Facebook feed. At least I have dual monitors.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The organ was originally the hausorgel of a husband and wife prominent in the local music scene. It was gifted to the church upon the wife’s death and was rebuilt by Barger & Nix Organs of McDonald, Tennessee.
Did anything distract you?
Virtual attendees kept clicking on emoticons, sending little hearts, smilies, etc. floating up the screen. The camera was positioned in such a way that one of the women in the congregation kept upstaging the lone gentleman there, who was not visible except for a moment or two.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard Prayer Book morning prayer, with traditional hymns.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The preacher’s message was sound and well organized, but he was obviously reading it, not preaching it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The 23rd Psalm is one of the most beloved passages in all of scripture. The shepherd led a simple life, spending lots and lots of time with his sheep. Today we have been given a glimpse of that loneliness as we are forced to stay isolated from friends and family. We can use this time to grow, to open our hearts to the Lord. St Francis, like the shepherd, found a home in God’s natural world. He made room in his heart for God. People today find inspiration in the life of Francis. Like Francis, we have an opportunity to love our neighbors, some of whose names we don’t even know. Perhaps it takes unsettling times to understand this. We can invite God to control our hearts. There are numerous ways to be a shepherd or a saint – and God recognizes them all. Let us pray the prayer of Francis: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.’
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I always appreciate a service held in a church, by vested clergy, amid ecclesiastical trappings, even if only virtually.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I couldn’t decide if this service was actually live-streamed, with readings and sermon pre-recorded and dubbed in, or if the entire service had been pre-recorded and edited. I thought that having the readings and sermon dubbed in distracted from the live-service ambience. Also, it was hard to hear the rector and deacon at times, as they were not wearing body mics and the camera microphone was too distant from them to pick up their voices clearly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was an organ recessional, but no one recessed – everyone remained in place. The rector thanked us all for attending and thanked those who had participated in the service, and made some announcements. Then the video feed ended abruptly.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had already finished breakfast (it may have been 10.00 in Ooltewah but it was only 7.00 in Phoenix) but I had not yet showered and dressed, so I proceeded to do so.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 — Should I find myself visiting the Chattanooga area after the present crisis has ended, I would be tempted to drop in on one of their services. They seem like a church with ‘a dignified approach to the altar,’ as a rector of my acquaintance once put it. But I would not be inclined to attend another virtual service here.
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 the rector waited until halfway through the service to put on her tippet. But Miss Amanda was still in her jammies, so who is she to point a finger?