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1126: St Clement's, Berkeley, California, USA
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St Clement's, Berkeley, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: ACOL-ite.
The church: St Clement's, Berkeley, California, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A rather attractive wooden structure, with nice stained glass depicting, I think, scenes from the life of Christ. A side chapel where the sacrament is reserved sits to the north. The choir sat in the quire, which is at the east end. There are mini-pulpits both on the epistle and gospel sides, each of which was used appropriately.
The church: A small friendly parish church (would that they were all so). There seemed to be a good range of activities – Sunday school, Bible study group, youth ministries such as preparing meals for the homeless, etc.
The neighborhood: This suburb of San Francisco was formed when two separate communities, each with very different roots and traditions, formally came together on April Fool's Day 1878. Its unofficial nickname "Berserkley" dates back to that fact. The site of one of the campuses of the University of California, Berkeley is a pretty town – leafy suburbia – but a little hard to navigate round.
The cast: The rector, the Rev. Bruce O'Neill, presided. We were informed that the associate rector, the Rev. Katharine Flexer, was away this week running a marathon!
What was the name of the service?
Choral Morning Prayer.

How full was the building?
About half full. Maybe 150.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A number of people spoke to me at coffee hour. It seemed a very friendly place.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived just before the service started, and everyone was pretty quiet. Many were kneeling in prayer. There was a lovely flute and harpsichord piece being played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1982 Hymnal, with chants inserted for the canticles, and a service book that had been made from the 1928 Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, flute (played by a rather talented young lady in her mid teens) and harpsichord.

Did anything distract you?
Each canticle had about six different chants provided with it, although there was no indication of which would actually be used. And so I kept myself busy during some of the lessons mentally humming the tune to each, so I'd be able to spot which one was the lucky winner. Given that the service book had been custom made to include the lessons, you'd have thought that they could at least have pre-selected each chant.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip. This was prayer book Protestantism done well.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father O'Neill had a very clear speaking voice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We need to have a mission against both apathy and busy-ness. People in Berkeley feel keenly the need for spirituality – the church needs to get out there and give them some! Father then enumerated some practical ways in which the church was trying to improve its outreach.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's singing of Os justi meditabitur sapientiam (Psalm 37:32-33) was definitely heavenly! A small group, they blended gorgeously and had a keen sense of dynamics and phrasing, thus creating a beautiful shape to the piece. Also, some time back, morning prayer had figured prominently in my daily devotions for over a year; it was wonderful to be reminded of that year.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The boorish way in which the congregation behaved during the postlude. The young flautist played another wonderful piece accompanied by the harpsichord. Her playing was in no way hellish – what was hellish was how everyone thought it quite acceptable to sit in church and have loud conversations while this young lady was offering a skilled and prayerful performance. Given the congregation's utter contempt for her efforts, it's amazing the youth of this parish even bother to involve themselves in the music program.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was introduced to the rector, who introduced me to someone who turned out to be an old fellow Oxonian. I got shuffled around a large collection of very nice people (whose names I've forgotten, I'm afraid) and had some very interesting conversations.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea was actually very good, as was the silver service. Unfortunately the cups were plastic, but we can't have everything, can we. The snacks were good too.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'm tempted.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh, definitely! This service felt very much like a homecoming. It's great to be challenged by new and different liturgies, but sometimes we need the more familiar ground to see God clearly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How difficult the church was to find, but how worth finding it was!
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