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204: St Joseph's, Mission San Jose, Fremont, California
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St Joseph's, Mission San Jose, Fremont, California
Mystery Worshipper: The Waiter.
The church: St Joseph's, Mission San Jose, Fremont, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: An unfortunate, low-slung 60s construction, with almost no adornment inside.
The neighbourhood: The reconstructed (1981-85) San Jose Mission church and museum is next door. A ferocious blight of appalling trophy houses for the Silicon Valley digirati is spreading on the nearby hills.
The cast: It was never said and didn't appear in the bulletin. He seemed like a supply priest.
What was the name of the service?
Saturday Vigil.

How full was the building?
Three quarters full, perhaps 250 people. This at a Mass of anticipation at 5.30, Saturday afternoon.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I arrived about one half hour early, while the cantor was distributing song sheets to every pew. During the service, the peace was one of the most earnest and attentive exchange of Christ's peace I've ever experienced. Everyone met and held my gaze. No one seemed rushed.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are the only redeeming feature of this era of architecture. Benches slightly angled down toward the back. Sturdy, metal hinged kneelers. Fabulous for comfort.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The cantor and the substitute pianist spent much of the time practising the service music. There was a fair amount of chattering as people began to wander in. Then minutes before the beginning of the Mass, the place filled up as families swooped in. An usher helped people find seats.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon and welcome to St Joseph's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A single, folded sheet, with hymns, psalm response and parish collect. No one bothered with the missalette.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Any number of things. But especially the celebrant who spent two or three minutes finding his place in the book at the beginning of the Mass.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was standard late century, post Vatican Council liturgy, stripped down to the nubbin. The same as is served up in a hundred other American, white, comfortably middle class Roman parishes. It was done earnestly and honestly, but everyone seemed to be just going through the motions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2. His Indian accent was thick enough to cut with a large knife. He spoke extemporaneously, enunciated fairly well and was loud enough, but he just winked at the Gospel and then told some happy stories about Mother Teresa. To his credit, early on, he slipped in a well-placed shot about how the story of the loaves and fishes reminded him of the huge, ill-stewarded wealth of America.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How much we like Mother Teresa and what a good egg she was.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Hearing the lector read the lessons and lead the prayers.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Watching the cantor encourage his charges to join in the sung praise, while they stood mute like sheep.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Parishioners, start your engines! As fast as the congregation swelled in, moments prior to the Mass, the sea ebbed out to the parking lot and their cars. During the ablutions, the reverent silence was scarred by the sound of starting car engines from the parking lot through the open windows. But to be fair, the lector took the time to give me detailed directions to a movie theatre.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee? What coffee? This crowd had places to go and things to do, now that Sunday's obligation was met.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1. If this was all that was available to me, I would go and be glad I had a Mass to attend. The priest was assisted distributing the communion elements by many laypersons. While liturgically dry as bones, I had the distinct feeling that this is a devoted, active parish. There is a school. There are two very ambitious building campaigns, for a new church and school plant, and for additional reconstruction of the mission buildings

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Attending this service made me feel glad to be a Catholic. There is a Mass I can attend almost everywhere I travel.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The noise of the car engines.
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