St Wilfrid of York, Huntington Beach, California

St Wilfrid of York, Huntington Beach, California, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Yarddog
Church: St Wilfrid of York
Location: Huntington Beach, California, USA
Date of visit: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 7:00pm

The building

The parish was established in 1947, and their first building, dating from 1966, featured pews, kneelers and an altar sanded and stained by the parishioners themselves. The present building dates from 1988 and is marked by high arches, clear glass windows, water tolerant plants and adequate parking.

The church

It appears to be a very inclusive and supportive community. They sponsor several spiritual and social groups. Of special note is a service and luncheon held twice yearly for people afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, and the parish's involvement in Beach Cities Interfaith Services, which sponsors programs for the homeless.

The neighborhood

Huntington Beach sits on the Pacific Ocean in California's Orange County. With eight miles of ocean beach and a strong, consistent surf, the locale is a surfer's paradise. Each summer Huntington Beach hosts the World Surfing Championships and the U.S. Open of Surfing, the largest surfing competition in the world. Huntington Harbour, comprised of five man-made islands bounded by a network of navigable channels, is ringed by multi-million-dollar homes and private pleasure-craft ports. The church is located in a suburban area near a public park.

The cast

The Revd Lee Walker, assistant for pastoral care, officiated and preached the sermon. Representatives from local Lutheran, other Episcopal churches and Roman Catholic churches gave readings. The entire St Wilfred's vestry, led by Derek Wimmer, senior warden, were also present.

What was the name of the service?

An evening service celebrating National Coming Out Day – "Removing The Mask."

How full was the building?

It was one-quarter full – about 80 people I'd say.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A very tall man with a great smile handed me a 16 page service leaflet, a candle in a holder, a piece of paper to write on, and a pencil.

Was your pew comfortable?

The usual wood but it was okay.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Chatty. There were obviously a lot of people who knew each other or had not seen each other for awhile.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome! I am the senior warder of this church. My entire vestry is here and we want to welcome you to this place."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The entire service was printed on a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, bells, and one pre-recorded piece of music. The South Coast Chorale were special guests.

Did anything distract you?

It was not a familiar service and as such was rather confusing. It was not clear what the candle we were given would be used for, and I for one ended up not knowing when to put it out after it had been lighted. The pre-recorded piece of music almost drowned out a very good choir.

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

It was sort of a take-off on the "lessons and carols" format. The music was a nice mix of African folk music, traditional hymns, and contemporary choral and solo pieces. The readings, with the exception of the gospel, were excerpts from the Revd Martin Luther King Jr's Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Diary of Anne Frank, and the works of Thomas Merton. There was also a moment when people were invited into the chapel to receive prayers from members of the church's prayer team.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

Just a bit too long considering the format.

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

8 – Revd Walker had an engaging personal style that worked well within the evening's format. I prefer a sermon delivered from notes rather than an extemporaneous talk such as this, so as to guard against the preacher's rambling on for too long. But considering the nature of the service, it was very topical but not political. And considering the fuss within the Episcopal Church over openly gay clergy – very timely.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was a personal journey of "coming out" and how that affected his private and professional life. One of the things he said was that a person is most fully alive when he is truthful.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The South Coast Chorale sang beautifully, but a piece called "Grace" was especially lovely. And there was an outstanding moment in the service reserved for bringing forth bidding prayers before the cross, accompanied by a song called "This Day."

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

The pre-recorded music was simply too loud! It drowned out the chorale and kept the congregation from fully singing their part. At least we know the church's sound system really works!

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

Everyone adjourned to the narthex for a reception that must have lasted about 45 minutes. There was much mingling of people and good conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee wasn't bad, but the cheesecake was fantastic. There was also an assortment of fresh fruit.

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

9 – This was a special annual event, but it showed that the church is an open and inclusive place. The whole experience just made me feel alive. If it weren't so far away from my house, I'd definitely make it my regular.

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

Yes. More than anything else, the prayers offered in the chapel by a warm and friendly prayer team made me glad to be a Christian.

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

That's a hard question, as I will remember so much of this service. But probably most of all, the moment of prayer in the chapel and the idea that a person is most fully alive when he is truthful.

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