|671: St David's, Austin, Texas, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Lucy Locket.
The church: St David's Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas, USA.
The building: A not particularly interesting, blonde stone neo-English Gothic structure, which faces a busy downtown street. Construction of a new building is underway for the purpose of doubling the non-liturgical space available for the church's use.
The church: It is a very active church located in a downtown area that draws members from both near and far. It is well known in the diocese of Texas and, I think, has a reputation as a liberal outpost.
The neighbourhood: Austin is both the seat of the state government and the location of the largest public university in the state. St David's is located in a hilly and very busy city district not far from the state capitol building and the university campus. One block over is Austin's infamous Sixth Street, where the well-heeled nightlies roam alongside university students for drinks, musical entertainment, and socially acceptable drugs.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Rev. Dr. Tom Bowers, Interim Rector.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, rite I.
How full was the building?
Half to mostly full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We entered from an nearby parking garage into an office building adjacent to the church building, and we were immediately greeted by a sweet-looking elderly woman who was well-dressed and equipped with an oxygen bottle and breathing apparatus. As she had no mobility problems and appeared to be willing to chase us down in order to accomplish her objective, we accepted a glossy red folder crammed with brochures and handouts of various kinds describing all the ministries of the church. She told us exactly where she would be standing after the service so that she could answer any questions we might have. Later, several people welcomed us and inquired whether we were visitors and so forth. It was a very friendly place.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew, no cushions, not particularly uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly hushed and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, The Hymnal 1982, and two leaflets, one for the service and one with the readings and psalm for the day.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. We were seated on the "pipe side," so it seemed to drown out the singing at times.
Did anything distract you?
There were continuing and very serious problems with the sound system. I was especially distressed by the very high-pitched, teeth-grating shrieks that feedback produced. During the sequence hymn, someone in the choir stalls left his microphone on and some conversation was audible under the congregation's singing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was dignified without being stiff. There was a warmth that I do not always feel in Episcopal churches.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1. It was rambling and displayed a remarkable intolerance for people who don't measure up to standards.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Following Jesus is a very serious matter that involves commitment and not fun and games. Jesus calls men to die and then to rise into newness. When a person does commit, he begins a whole new life, and consequences that cannot be foreseen flow from the decision.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It honestly wasn't a heavenly experience...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The preacher detoured into a story about his tenure at a church in Washington DC, where he recruited that congregation's first black priest. When he introduced the new priest at a Sunday service, 50 families got up and walked out of the church in protest. An impromptu study of the impact on the church's finances led him to the conclusion that the people who complained the most were the people who gave the least amount of money, and so, not only did it not matter that they had left, the exodus in fact had raised the level of the worth of the congregation. I was uneasy about that, but not offended until he went on to say that the rector of the church that received the 50 offending families called six months later to say that he was unhappy that these disagreeable people had joined his congregation, and would our storyteller kindly not send any more people to that parish. In other words, the sermon depicted the departure of these people as "good riddance to bad rubbish". Somehow the message that disagreeable people are disposable does not fit with my idea that people can learn tolerance by discovering that they are in fact people who also need to be tolerated. One would hope that they could be taught by example rather than abandoned as hopeless cases.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were quite friendly and I chatted briefly with the altar guild ladies and at length with the ladies working in the bookstore. I asked one of the altar guild ladies about the beautiful, carved marble altar, and she invited me to step into the sanctuary and feel it. In my experience, it is most irregular for anyone other than the ordained, the sexton, or a member of the altar guild to set foot in the sanctuary.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We didn't get any coffee. It was on a different floor and the area was fairly deserted. No food in sight, anyway.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1. The building is really small, the construction is very inconvenient, and if the interim rector is any indication of the views of the congregation, I would not want to be there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The sermon was so judgmental as to make me feel slightly embarrassed to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
After receiving the eucharist at the altar rail, the people had to pass through the sacristy in order to get back to the nave. It must drive the altar guild ladies mad.