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779: St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA
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St Paul's, San Diego, California
Mystery Worshipper: Al Eluia.
The church: St Paul's Cathedral, San Diego, California, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Interior: Romanesque, gray stone walls, lots of beautiful carved wood. Exterior: sort of Spanish mission style with a courtyard between the church and the great hall. There's a plaque commemorating the visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to the Cathedral in 1983.
The church: I didn't get a good sense of the church community from this service. They have a nice bookshop.
The neighbourhood: Right across the street from Balboa Park, a huge city park that's home to the San Diego Zoo plus a science center and several art museums.
The cast: The Rt. Rev. Gethin B. Hughes, Bishop of San Diego (officiant); The Very Rev. Scott E. Richardson, Dean; Wilbur C. Douglass III, US Coast Guard chaplain (preacher).
What was the name of the service?
Armed Forces Evensong (on the Sunday before Veterans' Day). San Diego is a major military town and the cathedral does this service annually.

How full was the building?
The main part of the nave was pretty full, with maybe 200 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived quite early. The crucifer was waiting outside for the color guard to arrive and directed me to the bookshop.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wood pew. Didn't try the kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
(After the processional hymn) "O Lord, open thou our lips."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet and the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ accompanying an approximately 30-voice choir.

Did anything distract you?
Just the noise of someone (might have been the bishop!) fumbling with a mike during the chanting of the Lord's Prayer.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Moderately stiff-upper-lip. Congregational participation was limited to the hymns, the Apostles' Creed, and assorted amens. The rest of the liturgy was chanted by the bishop and the choir. The procession included representatives of the US military carrying the American flag and the flags of all five branches of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Straightforward speaking style and a loud, clear voice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He told about his experiences ministering at Ground Zero after September 11, with people asking how can God allow things like that to happen. His response was that God can bring good out of evil, as when people came together in the aftermath of 9/11 no matter what their differences. At the end he quoted Genesis 50:20-21 – "Even though you intended harm to me, God intended it for good... so have no fear."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not being the most pro-military person, I had approached the idea of Armed Forces Evensong with some apprehension. However, during the final hymn – "Eternal Father, strong to save", the one that has a refrain, "For those in peril on the sea" – I was quite surprised to get all choked up and teary-eyed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing really. I was disappointed that the liturgy called for very little congregational participation, but the choir did an excellent job and this was a special occasion justifying special choral music.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was directed to the great hall, where there was a reception after the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a great spread! Sherry, coffee, juice, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, cookies, brownies. The coffee was strong enough to remove barnacles from the hull of a ship, probably in deference to the Navy.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I'd have to attend on Sunday morning to get a better idea.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Getting weepy during the final hymn.
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