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176: St Andrew's, Houston, Texas
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St Andrew's, Houston, Texas
Mystery Worshipper: Lucy Locket.
The church: St Andrew's, Houston, Texas, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A spartan building dedicated in 1947. Inside it is starkly simple, almost dour, and wood-paneled with eight narrow stained glass windows on each side of the nave. The altar is against the wall so that the priest's back is presented to the people during the celebration of the eucharist. A beautiful and fascinating carving of Jesus on the cross is suspended over the chancel steps.
The neighbourhood: St Andrew's proudly sits at the top of Heights Boulevard, the centerpiece of the neighborhood known as Houston Heights, which originally was an independent town developed in the early years of the century. Now swallowed up by and part of the city of Houston, the neighborhood consists primarily of small bungalows, with the silk stocking district formerly being along the broader avenues like Heights Boulevard. It had fallen sadly into ruin until revitalization began about twenty years ago.
The cast: Rev Donald Schell, Rector of St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco, preached the sermon. The Rt Rev Leopoldo J. Alard, Bishop Suffragan of Texas, was the celebrant. Four other priests and a deacon also participated.
What was the name of the service?
Celebration of a New Ministry. It was the induction of Rev Paul Fromberg, formerly senior canon at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, as the new rector.

How full was the building?
Absolutely packed, with folding chairs down the side aisles and people standing in the entry porch.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but there was such a crowd this was not surprising. The regular congregation was overwhelmed by visitors from Christ Church Cathedral.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was as comfortable as possible given that there were no cushions and it was crammed full of people almost sitting on top of each other.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very excited and chatty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bishop Alard, we have come together today to welcome Paul David Fromberg, who has been chosen to serve as Rector of St Andrew's Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special booklet printed up for the service and the 1982 Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and violin and, leading the procession out, four bagpipes.

Did anything distract you?
I couldn't help wondering if the city fire marshal would disapprove of the chairs in the side aisles. If there had been an emergency it would have been very difficult to get out of the building because of the crowd.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a surprisingly intimate and personal service, despite the number of bodies present. It somehow was both very dignified and yet very relaxed and was a most joyful experience. Many extras were packed in, such as censing the altar and the Gospel Book, reading the Gospel both in English and Spanish, the carrying of the Gospel Book to the people so that they could touch it, the bishop sprinkling the people with holy water, and the ringing of bells during the eucharistic prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I give him an 8. Rev Donald Schell was very jolly and he wore a fabulously decorated surplice, which I gather is the norm at his parish.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christians are called to welcome the stranger, to minister not only to those they know and love but also to those they do not know or understand. It is God's desire that we be as loving and as welcoming to the stranger as God is to all people.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being given the opportunity to touch the Gospel Book. Those of us who could not reach it laid a hand on someone who could. It was a very meaningful corporate experience.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not a thing, honestly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Impossible to do so as a reception was going on and a number of people I know were there. I took the opportunity to look at the bulletin board and read brochures, which gave me a very good impression of the congregation. Of special interest was a brochure about the church's Lucy Lockhart Bible Garden.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I went for the punch and the fruit and the cheese, only a part of the reception spread, all very good.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
About an 8, mostly because Paul is the rector now.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes indeed. It incorporated elements of early Christian worship that I wish were more prevalent in Episcopal services.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As we exited the building after the service to go to the reception, we were amazed to see teenage break dancers performing on the sidewalk in front of the church. I believe a friend of Paul's who works with street youths organized and brought them. It was a stroke of genius and a perfect comment on the sermon, because it brought us face-to-face with something that many of we righteous, church-going people probably would never choose to see or to welcome. But being confronted with what were, after all, amazing performances of athletic skill, both the young and the old gathered around, hooted and hollered and clapped and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. It was a powerful and effective message and one I do not think I ever will forget.
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