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104: San Felipe de Neri, Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico
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San Felipe church from the plaza
Mystery Worshipper: The Traveler.
The church: San Felipe de Neri, Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The church was founded in 1706 and rebuilt after the building collapsed during the rainy season of 1792. A Spanish adobe in the shape of a cross, it was originally attached to a one-story convent for the Franciscan friars who occupied it until they were booted out by the Mexican government after its independence from Spain. Nineteenth-century additions included Jesuits, two towers atop the narthex, a second story for the convent, a school building, and restrained Victorian flourishes. The Church is now under the authority of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the oldest part of Albuquerque, a stone's throw away from historic Route 66, on the north side of a sunny Spanish plaza. Old adobe buildings, which house businesses that cater primarily to the tourist trade (such as Native American crafts stores and restaurants) surround the plaza.
The cast: As there was no announcement as to the name of today's celebrant, I'm guessing it was the Very Rev Jerome Plotowski, who was listed as pastor in a brochure about the church.
What was the name of the service?
5.30pm Mass.

How full was the building?
Solidly full with approximately 300 in attendance. A special welcome was extended to all the visitors from the Albuquerque Balloon Festival.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A rather shy woman stationed at the door said "good afternoon".

Was your pew comfortable?
I'm on the smallish side and just fitted, with my knees touching the pew in front of me. A very tall, elderly man sitting to my right folded himself stiffly into his seat, and looked cramped and uncomfortable throughout the service. He handed me his cane, so I propped it against the end of the pew and hung my hat on it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A deep hush, except for a whimpering infant in the back and a whining child just behind me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please stand." I heard just the murmur of a woman's voice from the front of the church, then the front half of the congregation began singing "Praise the Lord," and the people in the back joined in a measure or two later. There was no organ or musicians, yet everyone sang together and on key during the procession. Quite impressive.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A missal and two hymn books, one in English and one in Spanish. I couldn't hear the announcements about the songs, and my neighbors were singing from memory and not the hymn books, so I finally surrendered to being lost and just listened.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Unfortunately, I was the distraction. During the consecration, the people next to me tried to lower the kneeler, but the cane I'd propped against the end of the pew had slipped down, become tangled with my hat cords, and was wedged under it. They pushed the kneeler vigorously down while I (muttering "hang on, hang on") tried to pry free the cane and hat, and finally the whole knotted mess hit the floor (and I think the elderly gent's left foot) with a loud bang.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Brisk and orderly. The whole service lasted less than 45 minutes.

San Felipe interior of the church

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8-9 range. He began with an amusing story about a recent service during which the sound system had broken. The bishop tapped on the microphone and said "something's wrong with this," and the congregation answered "and also with you." Overall his sermon was pithy and seemed to me to be a very good explanation and interpretation of the readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are loved fiercely by God, and even when we reject that love it doesn't end. Our vocation is to be lovers like God is a lover, and to bring that love to other people whom God has entrusted to our care.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We were asked at the end of the service to welcome a young acolyte who had just started serving, and to pray for her as she offered her service to God and the congregation. The acolyte stood by the lectern during this announcement and beamed happiness and embarrassment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The father of the fussy child sitting behind me finally threatened her: "do you want a spanking? I'll go get the vacuum cleaner right now, and whack you." I was horrified. The woman next to me whispered, "well, maybe she's afraid of the vacuum? I guess parents can say some pretty strange things when they are desperate."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I took a minute to snap some pictures of the inside of the church, and by the time I exited almost everyone had gone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
About a 7. I missed having musicians. Also, I was disturbed to see St Felipe front and center above the altar, instead of a symbol of Jesus. Perhaps I was suffering from Pre-Vatican II Shock Syndrome – this is a very old church, by American standards.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes indeed. Plus, the sermon answered a question that has been plaguing me about vocations, so I'm delighted as well.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Loitering on the plaza while waiting for the church bell to call me to Mass, drinking a hot cup of java and listening to the birds.

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