|430: St Elizabeth's, Gainesville, Florida|
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Mystery Worshipper: Singingmary.
The church: St Elizabeth's, Gainesville, Florida.
Denomination: Greek Orthodox.
The building: Attractive little stucco church, set on a wooded lot, with some fine modern icons. The iconostasis (altar screen) appears to be one purchased from an older church: marble trim and not-very-great icons.
The church: This is the only Orthodox church in Gainesville and it consequently picks up not only the Greek Orthodox population but anyone else with an Orthodox affiliation or interest. Lots of children, always a good sign in a church.
The neighbourhood: It's near Devil's Millhopper State Park. This is a gigantic sinkhole that you can walk down into, viewing ferns and other flora and listening to the sound of the trickling springs that made the limestone cave in originally.
The cast: Fr. Michael, the parish priest.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams. Of course, it is a tiny church, so that helps.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
One old man nodded a hello as I came in. Another made sure I had a bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, but since it was an Orthodox service, we only sat for about five minutes out of 70.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential because no one was there except me and about three other people. The priest and the reader were chanting the morning office in English. Everyone else got there within the first 10 minutes of the liturgy proper.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a Greek-English book of the Divine Liturgy. However, the service was over 70 percent in English (or, if in Greek, then repeated in English), so nobody much bothered.
What musical instruments were played?
Just unaccompanied Byzantine chant. There was a hideous electronic organ, but it went unused.
Did anything distract you?
I had sat down fairly far up, so I was curious to know what kind of people were sitting behind me. Since I didn't want to turn and stare, I tried to figure this out from the noises in back of me. There was also an adorable baby boy two rows in front of me, and his winning smile was diverting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Orthodox worship is formal. Everything has been pre-determined for over 1,000 years. What does differ among churches is the level of involvement from the congregation. Sometimes they appear totally disengaged. Here there was lots of singing along with the choir (not too loudly) and a level of bowing and making the sign of the cross that indicated they knew what was happening.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Three minutes, because there was going to be a parish administrative meeting.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Since he only made a few remarks on the Gospel, I don't think he had a chance to really get going.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about Mary and Martha. Fr. Michael observed that coming to church and receiving the Word of God was more important than making something for a bake sale. He also suggested that coming on time was a nice idea.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When we said the Our Father in Greek, and then English, and then Slavonic, and then five other languages. It reminded me that the world is much bigger than this university town in Florida.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Only the discomfort of being in a strange church and not being sure if I could ever sit down since there was some disagreement on this among the parishioners some standing, some sitting at certain moments.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me. They were busy looking for their children or their friends. At the same time, I didn't feel as though it was a personal rejection.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were sodas and some ominous looking snacks outside for those who had to stay for the parish meeting.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 While I spent many years in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I am now Roman Catholic. However, this would be a friendly little church. I'm sure if you turned up a couple of times for "church grounds cleanup," etc., you'd find yourself welcome.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it brought back to me the beautiful Byzantine poetry that makes up the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Christianity isn't just about "right now"; it's also about 2,000 years of worship and striving after beauty.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The baby with the lovely smile.