St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield, IL (Exterior)

St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield, Illinois, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul's Cathedral
Location: Springfield, Illinois, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 April 2014, 10:30am

The building

The Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle is in the English Gothic style, with a divided chancel. The parish's current building was consecrated in 1913. There is an extensive set of stained glass windows installed from 1912-1982, executed by Willet Studios of Philadelphia, one of the oldest studios in North America and suppliers of stained glass to such strange bedfellows as the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy at West Point and the New York City subway system. The windows in the chancel area illustrate themes from the Rosary, somewhat unusual for an Episcopal church. Behind the altar is a reredos carved from Black Forest walnut by Alois Lang, a German woodcarver. This dates from the 1920s. In the center of the reredos is a Christus Rex, veiled for Passiontide, surrounded by statues of other biblical figures.

The church

Episcopalians began meeting in Springfield in 1832, and the parish of St Paul, Springfield, was organized in 1835. The parish's first rector, the Revd Charles Dresser, officiated at the marriage of Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd. There is a strong emphasis on hunger ministries, in addition to sacramental formation, Christian education, music, and social activities. There are two Sunday eucharists, at 8.00 (Rite I) and 10.30 (Rite II). Weekday eucharists are celebrated each Tuesday and Thursday; Wednesday evenings in Lent there are Stations of the Cross, eucharist, Soup Supper, and benediction.

The neighborhood

Springfield is the largest city in central Illinois, with a metropolitan area population of some 208,000. It is the capital of the state of Illinois. Since Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield from 1837-1861 (when he became President), there are a number of tourist attractions related to one of our most famous Presidents. It is also on the old Route 66, immortalized by the television series of that name some decades back.

The cast

The Very Revd Gus Franklin, retired dean and assisting priest, was celebrant and homilist. Barber Potts, M.Div., chief verger and master of liturgical ceremonies, served in that capacity. The names of the organist, vested deacon and subdeacon were not noted in the bulletin.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn High Mass (Rite II)

How full was the building?

In a building that could hold, I would estimate, about 400, there were about 75 present, including those in the chancel.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was warmly welcomed by a gentleman who introduced himself as Kevin. He gave me a bulletin, and then, when he noticed the insert containing a hymn not in the hymnal was missing, walked to another entrance to pick up a copy for me. After the service, he saw me in the parking lot and again told me how glad he was I had worshiped with them; we had a nice conversation at that point.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very comfortable, with kneelers below the pews in front of us.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins," with the response "His mercy endures forever," the opening Lenten acclamation in the 1979 Prayer Book.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Prayer Book 1979, the Hymnal 1982, and the bulletin containing the lessons and some bits of service music not in the hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Mostly organ, but also guitar, which accompanied the fraction anthem, and piano on the communion hymn ("I Am The Bread of Life").

Did anything distract you?

This Lutheran continues to be baffled by the distinctly Anglican tradition of vergers. I had always thought they were a feature of "low church" Anglicanism, but apparently not.

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

High, but not stuffy. Priest, deacon and subdeacon were vested in chasuble, dalmatic, and tunicle, respectively. Incense was used at the gospel procession and from the offertory until the beginning of communion. Bells were rung before the institution narrative and at the elevations. We received communion kneeling at the altar rail. Much of the liturgy was chanted. On the other hand, the peace was shared enthusiastically, and at some length. Music was largely traditional.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – The retired dean is a very accomplished public speaker. Nothing dramatic, but easy to follow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Dean Franklin focused on putting the gospel for Lent V (the raising of Lazarus, from John 11) into the context the gospels for the four preceding Sundays, all from John. (He noted that usually in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary we read from Matthew's gospel.) These four readings are all about baptism. Lent originally began as a season in the church year where candidates were prepared for baptism.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Several things: a carefully prepared and executed liturgy; the spritely tempo at which the organist took the final hymn ("If thou but trust in God"), which kept it from sounding as dour as it sometimes does; and the role the parish allows for its youngest members – two young folks who couldn't have been older than eight years took up the collection.

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

Well, they are a bit close to the train tracks, and the prelude became a duet for organ and obbligato train whistle. And I was surprised that the deacon performed none of the liturgical roles of a deacon (reading the gospel, pronouncing the dismissal, etc.). He was reduced to holding the gospel book while the celebrant read the gospel, and administering the chalice.

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

A very nice woman stopped to talk, said that she was so glad that I worshipped with them, and invited me to coffee hour. She was most welcoming, and we had a nice chat.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I had spent Saturday evening in Springfield to break up a ten-hour road trip. I still had five and a half hours to go, and as it was already 12.45 in my home time zone when the service ended, I felt I needed to get on the road.

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

8 – If I were to move to Springfield, I would look first for a Lutheran parish. But if none of them passed muster, I suspect I could be quite happy at St Paul's.

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

Yes, indeed. I had not been in an Episcopal church for a couple of years, and it was good to be back in the company of our full-communion partners.

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

The friendliness of this congregation.

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