St John's, Detroit, MI (Exterior)

St John's, Detroit, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 April 2018, 10:00am

The building

This large Victorian Gothic church is constructed from limestone and has gargoyles over several exterior doors and windows. Much stained glass adds light and color to the interior, including the wonderfully lit nave. A large super reredos mosaic of an angel at the Resurrection dominates the east end of the church. There are heavy wooden choir and clergy stalls in the chancel that harmonize well with the church. There is a wonderful play between the weightiness of the stone and wood and the ethereal quality of the space and light.

The church

The parish seems well connected to the neighborhood. Some members of the congregation were from the immediate area, but others were drawn from farther afield for the Prayer Book services. There are special events on the parish's calendar, including a community hymn sing on a Saturday afternoon. On May 5, Karen Abercrombie, an actress from the movie War Room, will make a presentation about the power of prayer. In addition to the usual round of services, the parish is affiliated with the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and has regular adoration and benediction.

The neighborhood

The downtown church is catty-cornered from the Fox Theater, and just a few blocks from the Detroit Opera House. There are many restaurants and coffee places in the immediate neighborhood. The church is also a stone's throw (or maybe a baseball's throw) away from Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The parish plans an outing to the stadium, where the choir will sing the National Anthem before a Detroit Tigers game.

The cast

The Revd Steven J Kelly, SSC, rector, was officiant, celebrant, and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Morning Prayer with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

Hard to get a count. Perhaps 50 to 60 persons were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I was trying to get a photograph of the outside of the building, a parishioner smiled and nodded to me. It was well before service time when I got inside the building, where I was greeted by an usher and the rector, both of whom engaged me in conversation for a few minutes.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was comfortable if rather short from front to back. The kneeler was separate and moveable. I found it difficult to kneel without the unfortunate Anglican squat. The individual pew wasn't a problem, but I found the aggregate of pews unwieldy.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quietly reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1940.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ, very well played. Huw R. Lewis, A.Mus.D., FRCO, is the director of music, organist and choirmaster, and Norene Walters, A.Mus.D., is Edwards Organ Scholar.

Did anything distract you?

I'm always distracted by the 1928 Prayer Book. It's very close to Rite I in the 1979 book, but not the same – for example, the Gloria followed communion (and was the Old Scottish Chant setting). I was also wondering how I missed the change in the rector's vesture from cassock, surplice, tippet and hood to alb and chasuble.

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

The service was certainly formal but not rigid. The National Anthem was sung (the faithful facing the flag with their right hands over their hearts) immediately after the processional hymn. One was reminded of the old saw about the "Tory Party at prayer" (as the Church of England is sometimes called). Since it was Low Sunday, the choir were represented by a quartet seated in the chancel. It appeared that the people sang only with the choir's help or permission. In the recessional hymn, for example, we sang the first two verses of Ellacombe whilst the choir and other ministers processed out. But we couldn't sing the last verse till the choir had made a circuit and was standing in front of us by the lectern.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

10 – There were a few announcements concerning upcoming parish events. When Father Kelly got to the sermon proper, he had an earnest animated style. I believe he preached from notes, but he certainly didn't read his sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon reminded us that we were toward the beginning of a 40 or 50 day celebration of the Resurrection. Messages of the resurrected Lord included "Peace be with you" and "Receive the Holy Spirit." The congregation was also given two assignments: the first was to read the last few chapters of each gospel this week to see all the gospel post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. The second assignment was to tell somebody that you are having a good Easter celebration and that you are grateful that Jesus has forgiven your sins. You may get a "Well, good for you" or be rebuffed, but do it anyway. It's true, it's good news, and it will prove to be a blessing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing of Anglican chant psalms and canticles from the Hymnal and the Merbecke mass setting.

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

I found the pews to be substantial and immovable impediments to congregational traffic. Conspicuous numbers are a reminder of the pew rent of the 19th century; dividers prevent passage from one aisle to another, and the pews extend all the way to the back wall. You cant get from one part of the nave to another (to examine the stained glass, for example) without going into the chancel or narthex. The organ was sometimes too loud for my taste, but no, there was nothing about the service that was anything "like being in ... er ... the other place."

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

Not much. Nearly everybody stayed in the church for the organ postlude: the Toccata by the 20th century Russian organist and composer Georgi Alexandrowitsch Muschel. People left. I said good-bye to the nice people in the narthex and went to the parking lot.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't notice the announcement in the bulletin about refreshments in the undercroft until later in the day. I wasn't asked to coffee after the liturgy.

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

9 – For all the Catholic truth and evangelical zeal, I noticed there was little apparent Marian devotion, and no published times for sacramental confession.

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 Old Scottish Chant Gloria.

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