|582: Cathedral-Basilica of St Augustine, St Augustine, Florida|
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Mystery Worshipper: Anglophile.
The church: Cathedral-Basilica of St Augustine, St Augustine, Florida.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Founded in 1565, this church was razed and rebuilt and razed again, with pirates mostly to blame. Parts of the current structure date from the early 1700s and was improved upon largely in the 19th century. It was fitted with an impressive steeple donated by railroad magnate Henry Flagler in the 1880s. Spanish architecture is evident throughout. The sanctuary boasts an array of familiar Spanish decorations including colours, candelabras, altar facade and other ornamentation. The ceiling is a vivid red-orange and there are large gilt statues behind the altar. The church grounds are small since the cathedral is closed in by both shops and streets.
The church: The congregation was largely composed of tourists; however, I sensed a very small but dedicated local following.
The neighbourhood: St Augustine was the New World's first successful colony. An obvious Spanish influence is apparent in all facets of the local culture. The main industry of the town is tourism; it is also home to a private university, Flagler College. The church is located on the central town plaza.
The cast: The priest's name was not given; however, from what I can deduce from the bulletin, I believe it was Rev. James Orumpakkatt. There was also a song leader who was not named.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am Sunday mass, eleventh Sunday in ordinary time.
How full was the building?
About half full. Since it is a cathedral, the building could hold a large number of people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man held the door as we walked in and greeted us with a friendly "hello."
Was your pew comfortable?
Not very. The seat was very hard and though the kneelers were padded, they were still uncomfortable and their orientation forced an uncomfortable kneeling position. There wasn't a lot of legroom when seated, although this is typical of an older church.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We arrived fifteen minutes early for the service, and the atmosphere was one of quiet reverence. While we were waiting, a group was reciting the rosary at the front of the church. That really puts one in a worshipful mood. There were some quiet conversations going on as more people entered. After the rosary was over, the organ began to play very softly and beautifully.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! And especially to our visitors and tourists, a hearty welcome to the Cathedral-Basilica of St Augustine."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Breaking bread an edition of today's missal" from Oregon catholic press.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, played wonderfully.
Did anything distract you?
We seemed to be sitting in the fidgeting/whimpering/generally-misbehaving children section. Also, there was a couple in front of us sitting in a roped-off pew, and I kept wondering why. Were they being punished?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was formal and traditional. No incense, no bells, but definitely not happy-clappy. Some people did hold hands during the Our Father, a newer custom I don't like very much. It reminds me too much of touchy-feely charismatic Protestantism.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Ten minutes on the dot.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 His sermon was good, but he had a very thick accent, which, combined with the echo in the building, caused us to strain to try to understand him. I admit I missed some of it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed by the same river, the river Jordan. But the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, full of fish, and the Dead Sea is so salty it can sustain no life. The reason is that the Dead Sea has no outlet and the Sea of Galilee does. As Christians, we must be like the Sea of Galilee, and share our faith and the gifts God has given us with others, or we will become like the Dead Sea.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was glorious. The organist played exceptionally well, there was a great choir, and most of the congregation joined in singing the hymns, which they often don't do in Catholic churches. During the eucharist, the choir sang a plainsong chant that connected us with the deep sense of history of the place. I couldn't help but think about the many people who have worshipped there throughout the centuries, and how despite our different backgrounds and experiences, we are all bound by the love of Christ and his sacrifice in the mass. It was a profound moment.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Latecomers! Groups of people were rudely and loudly coming in late during the entire service, even during the sermon. I couldn't believe the disrespect of these people. I wish the ushers had not allowed people in after the service had started. Perhaps this is what they have to deal with in a tourist church though.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The narthex is tiny, and there is really no place to hang around without being swept out with the exiting crowd. We were handed a bulletin as we exited, and outside the door we shook hands with the priest. I believe the majority of the congregation were tourists also, and therefore were all eager to get on with their day.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none that we could see.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 The building was beautiful, and there was a great sense of history to the place that you don't find in many North American churches. If I lived in St Augustine I would definitely come back, although I would try other service times to see how they differed.
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 majesty of the church building and rich sense of history that permeats it.