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634: St George's, Riverside, California, USA
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Mystery Worshipper: Scot.
The church: St George's, Riverside, California, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: St George's is a contemporary-style building, constructed in 1966. The sanctuary is semi-round with the choir loft and platform to one side and the pews arranged in a radial fashion. The walls in the front are painted slightly muted red and contain two stained glass windows. The concrete floor is covered in a blue-grey paint that is immediately familiar to anyone who has worked in a factory. The table, rail, pews and all of the wood trim are a honey colored oak. The overall effect is not as garish as it sounds.
The church: St George's houses the only permanently installed labyrinth in the Riverside area. The seven-pass circular labyrinth is located on a patio outside of the sanctuary. The patio also contains a simple meditation garden with a variety of small statuary and a lovely baptismal font carved from red Sedona sandstone.
The cast: The Rev. Joanna R. Satorius, Rector; Matie Manning Scully, Choir Director; Virginia Haisten, Organist.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist Rite II. This was not only my first Mystery Worshipper visit, but also the first liturgical service of any kind that I've ever attended.

How full was the building?
About 25 people attended, in addition to the choir and those participating in the service. The building was about one-third full. The congregation spanned a wide age range, including both a newborn baby (unfortunately right behind me) and several 60-something ladies. Several families brought their young children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Nobody greeted me when I came in, probably because I inadvertently came in through the wrong door. During the peace about half of the congregation greeted me and introduced themselves. The rector, Mother Joanna, made a point of greeting me during the peace. She asked me a few unintrusive questions about myself. In return, I welcomed her to her own church, but more about that incident later.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were unpadded wood and, if not exactly comfortable, they were not painful. My pew was nicely contoured and freshly polished. As a result, every time I sat down I slid to the back of the pew with an audible thump.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everyone was in their seats well before the service started. The congregation obviously knew each other well, and happy-sounding conversation filled the room. The organist didn't seem to mind and only played louder.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pew racks contained the 1982 Hymnal and the 1977 Proposed Book of Common Prayer. An insert in the program provided the collect, the readings and the Gospel. The scripture was NRSV.

What musical instruments were played?
A small pipe organ was the only musical instrument in the sanctuary. An eight-member choir led in the singing. The quality of the music was reasonable, but not exceptional.

Did anything distract you?
As a first-time attender at a liturgical service, I had my plate full with navigating the Book of Common Prayer, the hymnal, the order of service and the sheet with the readings. I was holding my own until we got to the Liturgy of the Table. Suddenly none of the page numbers in the order of service matched what was being read by the celebrant. I'm not sure whether this was due to a typo, discrepancies between the 1977 and 1979 Books of Common Prayer, or some misunderstanding on my part. In any case, I could no longer keep track of where we were in the service or what I was supposed to do next.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
None of the upper lips were stiff to the point of being stern or dour, but the style definitely was not happy-clappy. The hymns were sung in traditional style, using the hymnal and organ accompaniment. However, the congregation displayed plenty of smiles and even a few chuckles during the sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Twenty-one minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Mother Joanna is well-spoken, but her style reminded me very much of a college lecturer. I usually prefer a more conversational and dynamic style. Also, she tried to cover more material than could rightly be fit into a short sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God created us in his own image. After sin distorted the image, he called us back to our original identity through grace. We are both loved and forgiven – that is the Gospel. Taking a large logical leap, the focus then shifted to stewardship, a special emphasis at St George's this week. Like I said, it was a lot to fit into 21 minutes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The style of communion was completely new to me. Hearing the words of the eucharistic prayer filled me with an awareness of all of the Christians who have heard the same words down through many years. Kneeling at the rail and receiving the bread and sipping the wine thrilled me to my core. Through the sacraments, I experienced the nearness of my Lord in an indescribably intimate way.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This being my first time attending an Episcopal service, I did not know exactly what to expect during some parts of the service. During the peace, I mentally primed myself to respond to people in the same way they addressed me. In most cases this was simply, "good morning" or "peace". Unfortunately, Mother Joanna greeted me with "welcome!" to which I automatically replied with a cheery "welcome!" Despite her obvious confusion at being welcomed to her own church by a visitor, she was gracious enough not to laugh. In my embarrassment my face burned with the very fires of hell.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had no chance to look lost. Mother Joanna broke off a conversation with a member to thank me for coming and invite me back. When I commented on the garden and labyrinth, she assigned a pleasant young lady to give me a tour. The tour, which lasted about 10 minutes, included the labyrinth, the new outdoor baptismal font, the planned prayer garden and free produce garden ("you can't steal from our garden!"). When I left I had a copy of the church newsletter, two free tickets to St George's Oktoberfest celebration, and a sense of being genuinely welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Unfortunately there was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I was looking for a liturgical church to attend regularly, I would give serious consideration to St George's. What they lack in size and extravagance, they make up in friendliness. Also, the labyrinth and meditation garden are a major plus.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely, yes. The members of St George's obviously care about each other and are actively involved the local community.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chill that went through me when my lips touched the chalice.
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