|1088: All Saints, Princeton, New Jersey, USA|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Abed-nego.
The church: All Saints, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
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The building: A mid-20th century A-frame building in a very pleasant sylvan setting with a large parking lot. The church is cruciform in shape, the epistle side of the sanctuary being occupied by the choir and the organ, and the gospel side by sediliae for the sacred ministers (mostly).
The church: This was primarily an upper-middle-class congregation. There were a goodly number of children.
The neighborhood: A university town, Princeton is quite beautiful – no two ways about that! All Saints' is located in the midst of a well-heeled residential development, very wooded, with some lavish estate homes tucked away behind mature trees. All very landscaped and elegant!
The cast: The Rev. Karl Morrison, priest associate, was the celebrant. Father Morrison was assisted by an unnamed deacon whom I shall call the "Butterfly Lady" (and I'll explain more fully a little later). The Rev. Alan C. French, interim rector, was the preacher, and Frances Fowler Slade, director of adult music ministries, led the choir. The organist was Diane Caruso.
|What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist, Rite One. Something of a misnomer, as the epistle, psalm, gospel, creed, and prayers of the people were all in contemporary English.
How full was the building?
About three-quarters full (120 people).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady named Mary gave me a warm welcome, asked me if I was from the area, requested that I write my name in the visitors' book, and then tried to get me to fill out and wear a name tag ("since the interim rector doesn't know everybody"). I declined this last request.
Was your pew comfortable?
This was the most comfortable pew I've ever sat in. The seat was generously padded.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Before the mass, the atmosphere was quiet and reverential. Most people seemed to arrive close to the appointed hour, emerging from doors that presumably led to other parts of the building. The only pre-service distractions were a white-haired gentlemen in a cassock-alb returning twice to re-adjust the books in the sanctuary, and the choir director organizing her music on a music stand and then rather obviously checking out the pew-sitters!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia, Christ is risen!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer 1979, Hymnal 1982. I was also given a well-presented 18-page order of service that contained the melody line of the congregational mass setting as well as the psalm chant, all the prayers and responses, and a full page of notices (although not all of them, as will be seen).
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic organ with a realistic church-organ sound, although somewhat lacking in color and "oomph." The organist managed it nicely, though, and provided good support for the robust congregational singing. Oddly, the organ "dropped out" without warning for an occasional a cappella verse, which was very nice if a little unexpected! The twelve-or-so choir members did a sterling job, but sadly were never afforded their moment to shine. Why no motet?
Did anything distract you?
Ah yes, the Butterfly Lady. The deacon wore a stole every inch of which was covered with butterflies! What caused my mind to wander was the fact that, for the life of me, I couldn't think of a single scriptural allusion to these winged creatures. As far as I know they emerge from caterpillars and eat cabbage. But it was a lovely accessory and quite beautiful in its own way, and other than that the deacon wasn't exactly what I would call a distraction. She read the gospel very well, as a matter of fact.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was middle-of-the-road Anglican. I was, therefore, somewhat surprised when the peace ceremony morphed into a series of unscripted notices given by the woman named Mary who had welcomed me. This long array of announcements seemed to have everything to do with needing money for things, and wound up with a hand-count of those who planned to attend the barbeque that evening. Finally she added, "This just in. An anonymous donor has offered to underwrite the cost of the barbeque for older members of the parish." As she turned to leave, the interim rector jumped in unexpectedly to ask her for a definition of "older." It was an embarrassing moment that proved to be an excuse for him to tell a funny story about an experience he had while at seminary. I didn't get it. I squirmed. Why, in a parish equipped to produce such an excellent bulletin, aren't the notices put into the bulletin rather than delivered via a ham-fisted and embarrassing interruption of the liturgy?
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Father French preached coherently without notes, and with plenty of vocal variety and good projection. He seemed at home as a public speaker, and had planned a traditional three-point sermon based on the gospel of the day. But I can't see my way to a higher score than 6 because of the curiously perverse way in which the sermon ended.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel of the day was St Luke's record of the travelers' encounter with our risen Lord on the Emmaus road. Father French retold the story very colorfully, and then posed the question, "What would have happened if the travelers hadn't extended hospitality to Jesus?" Then he abruptly changed focus to the three Old Testament figures whom Abraham invited into his tent to share a meal. "What would have happened," he asked, "if Abraham hadn't extended hospitality to the three men?" Then we were whisked along to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man who did not offer poor Lazarus any hospitality, and so was condemned to Hades. I was waiting for a concluding argument something along the line that Christians should warmly welcome strangers. But things took a sudden turn. "Which should come first," Father French asked, "a new sanctuary or a new kitchen?" He came down heavily on the side of rebuilding the church's kitchen. And that was that! (I guess there must be internal struggles about future priorities at the church.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The budding trees waving in the breeze, visible through the windows high up in the sanctuary.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were three oddly strained moments during the course of the proceedings. The first occurred early on when the celebrant suddenly decided to have the children come forward for a blessing. The children's parents seemed surprised that they were were being required to send (or carry) their offspring to the feet of the celebrant. The next – and most bizarre – happened at the end of the offertory. As the plates were being passed, we were entertained with the fastest Alleluia (from Mozart's Exsultate, Jubilate) I've ever heard – admirably brought off by choirmember Shannon Hunt. But my amazement at this rapid rendition was nothing compared with my bewilderment over the behavior of choir director Slade, who grinned encouragingly at the singer throughout her performance and gave her an enthusiastic and highly visible thumbs-up on her last note. Weird! The third oddity was the prayers of the people, which turned out to be a bit of a bumpy ride. They began nicely by our asking that the Lord's resurrection "bring new life to the world." We then prayed for the bishops "that they may proclaim the risen Christ with power and conviction." Next we remembered our president George, our governor, and leaders of the nations, and asked that "they may bring new life to the world". Hold on a second – didn't we just ask that of Christ's resurrection? And shouldn't we be asking the Lord to make our leaders God-fearing and peace-loving? So far as I know, it's not part of the job description that the president "bring new life to the world" (nor could he, methinks, even if he wanted to, but I digress). Also, we prayed for more sick people than I have ever known to be mentioned by name in a prayer before. I can't swear to it, but I believe I heard the names read off of some 60 to 70 ill souls.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to look lost here! The people in front of me invited me to coffee hour, and so did the people behind me. And so did everyone I encountered on my journey to the lovely, airy room where it was being served.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was good, but the food was pretty limited – just jam-filled cookies and some fruit.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 If I lived in Princeton, this could be a possibility. But I would want to see how leadership issues panned out under a new rector. Despite the preacher's priorities, I think I would like to see some thought given to a new sanctuary, although to be fair, I didn't inspect the supposedly inadequate kitchen.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I enjoyed spending an all-too-short time among warm and responsive Christian folk. Yes, I was very glad indeed to be a Christian in the spiritual home of such an outgoing group of people.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The room where coffee was served. The open French doors led out onto beautiful wooded grounds. It didn't hurt that the weather was absolutely perfect and the daffodils were in bloom. I will also remember that really strange thumbs-up after the Mozart.