|814: Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Baptist, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
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Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Baptist, 1401 Avenida Ponce de Leon, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Denomination: Episcopal Church of the USA.
The building: Tourists won't see the cathedral featured in the guidebooks. This is not the Roman Catholic cathedral of the same name in "Old" San Juan. The building is of stone, painted yellow, in the Spanish mission style. The cathedral school is attached, and the two buildings together form a courtyard which might have been given over to a fountain, flowers and trees, but instead serves as a basketball court for the school. The cathedral itself is only slightly larger than your average parish church. The interior is bright and airy. An aqua blue and coral tile wall forms the back of the sanctuary, with a nicely done stained glass triptych over the altar depicting, I believe, Christ teaching in the temple. The other windows are of plain glass with a Celtic cross etched into each. The altar crucifix and candle holders are wooden, in the native Indian style.
The church: The cathedral serves two separate congregations, one Spanish speaking and the other English speaking.
The neighbourhood: The Cathedral is located on Avenida Ponce de Leon, in a commercial neighborhood that has seen better days. From San Juanās Condado hotel district, the eastbound B21 bus will get you there for only 25 cents.
The cast: The Rev. Canon David Silva Howell, rector; the Rev. Dimas David Munoz, deacon; Mr Charles Tyrone Johnson, organist; Ms Mavis Johnson and Mr Newton Kinsey, lectors.
What was the name of the service?
Second Sunday after Epiphany, Choral Eucharist (English speaking).
How full was the building?
About 50 people not counting the altar party and choir – relatively empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No welcome of any sort before the service. However, Canon Howell invited visitors to come up to the altar and introduce themselves after the exchange of peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the pews and kneelers were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Somewhat chatty and visity but not to the point of major distraction.
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?
Book of Common Prayer, 1982 Hymnal, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ – an electronic instrument, a large Rogers church organ, with spectacularly realistic pipe sound.
Did anything distract you?
It was annoying to hear the couple in front of me discuss their previous night's casino winnings during the exchange of peace.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A dignified but personal, not distant, Episcopalian eucharist. During the exchange of peace, the entire altar party as well as the choir mingled with the congregation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Canon Howell preached well, punctuating his sermon with personal references as well as everyday examples.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Miracle at Cana shows Christ's mastery over all creation. If Christ could change water into wine, and fine wine at that, how much more will he change our lives if we would just "do whatever he says," as Mary told the servants at the wedding feast.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music. The organist, Mr Johnson, was top notch and played with verve and style. The Lord's Prayer was sung to the familiar Malotte setting and was absolutely stunning.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Priests who cannot carry a tune should not attempt to chant the Sursum Corda and Preface.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several members of the congregation greeted me. Canon Howell was especially gracious, asking about my home parish and hoping that I would enjoy my stay in Puerto Rico. I made it a point to tell the organist, Mr Johnson, how much I enjoyed the service music, and he and I had an extended conversation afterwards out at the bus stop.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Simple presentation of sandwiches, cake, coffee and punch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 This would be my spiritual home if I lived in San Juan. Although off the beaten tourist path, the cathedral is well worth seeking out by vacationers looking for a place to worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Canon Howell's sermon was most inspirational, and it was a pleasure to sing to Mr Johnson's superb accompaniment.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Malotte Lord's Prayer sung by the congregation, many with lilting Caribbean accents.