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  1222: St Patrick's, Rockvillle, Maryland USA

St Patrick's, Rockvillle, Maryland USA

Mystery Worshipper: Miserissima.
The church: St Patrick's, Rockvillle, Maryland USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Ultra-modern post Vatican II blend. Think of the Brady Bunch having free reign to decorate a church and you're not far off. The tabernacle was on a side altar to the left of the nave. The wooden barrel-vaulted ceilings evoked a more traditional decor that I can only imagine was beautiful. There was no crucifix behind the altar. Instead there was a garishly colorful mosaic of the risen Christ raising his pierced hands in triumph.
The church: There was no spirit of reverence from the community, and it seemed that no one's attention was on the prayers but on each other instead.
The neighborhood: There are several large assisted-living communities in the area.
The cast: Rev. Msgr. Kevin T. Hart, Pastor; Rev. Fredrick Close, Parochial Vicar; Rev. Mr James T. Nalls, Permanent Deacon; Mrs Marion Spahn, Director of Music.
The date & time: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 11:00am.

What was the name of the service?
Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, BCP.

How full was the building?
The pews were mostly full, but it could have seemed that way because no one took off their winter coats. There were many latecomers for a late morning mass.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me. The ushers wandered around assisting the celebrants with their vestments, but did not seat anyone, pass out bulletins, or greet anyone who made eye contact.

Was your pew comfortable?
There was enough room between the pews so I didn't have to slide toward the center and lose my coveted outer-aisle seat. The pew seat itself was relatively thin, leaving most people squirming to find a comfortable position before they resignedly settled into being short-seated.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The people who came in, after offering the cursory prayers, turned full around to see who was coming in, wildly calling and gesticulating to people they knew. The choir was practising as people filtered in, and it was kind of the lead soprano to let the choir director direct. The soprano, an older lady with distinguished white hair and coke-bottle glasses, led all of the music – poorly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The soprano made the announcement, "Please turn to hymn six-twenty-two, hymn six-twenty-two, that's six-twenty-two for our opening hymn, 'Lord, who throughout these forty days.' Six-twenty-two, six twenty-two."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were thick, red-bound hymnals, but I was not able to access one. Instead, the couple next to me took three from their pew and the two from mine to give to their children to play with and fling over the backs of the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
There was an organ and a gorgeous Celtic harp.

Did anything distract you?
The elderly couple behind me kept up a running commentary on what people were wearing into church. They snarked on the young lady in front of me who was in flip-flops with cherry-red toenails, and they mentioned in no small voice that the celebrant's voice was like "Kermit the Frog with a frog in his throat." The family in front of me giggled every time the lead soprano warbled her voice upward until she approximated the right note, and I admit that for a moment I had to join them in irreverent laughter. The celebrant omitted the words, "Do this in memory of me," before raising the chalice.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
In spite of the swinging censer and coordinated purple vestments, the style was lax from the common Sunday Mass formality. I had to agree with the couple behind me who remarked that there was no reverence, though they did not feel compelled to be reserved in their own opinions throughout the mass. The tone of worship was one of simple disinterest from the people who attended.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The speaker tried to be engaging, but couldn't manage to hold the attention of the congregation for a scant 8 minutes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The deacon fell short of making an anology of golf as an addiction, likening the desire to food, alcohol or lust. No matter how much we may get a temporary fill of what is important to us, we are never satisfied. Though we are baptized with water, we will only be satisfied when we worship in spirit and truth and therefore partake in the spiritual water Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading. When we worship that way, we will see God in everything, and "when we shank a golf ball right and 'doink' it off a tree, we can do so in a Spirit of God."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
As a small departure from the Liturgy of the Word, all confirmation candidates and baptism elects were called to the altar to kneel as we prayed collectively (in responsorial fashion) for them. It was warming to feel part of a community that way. But it was difficult not to notice that the priest called the season "Advent" instead of "Lent."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was an undercurrent of hostility to anyone who wasn't a familiar face. It was obvious that, collectively, people assembled out of obligation and not a spirit of community and/or worship.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one made eye contact, and everyone was in a hurry to leave. I was able to catch the attention of an usher, who said that I would have to come back during the week to register for the parish because they were "too busy now." On his way back into the church, Monsignor Hart distractedly said, "Hi," but made no attempt at conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service refreshments were offered. People were in too much of a hurry to leave. I wasn't even aware if the church has a hall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I wouldn't make this a regular church, because I don't see how I could get spiritually fed here. The community is just a gathering of folks, and not a community at all.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I was disappointed overall in the attitude of those who called themselved the "true body of Christ." I was glad that this wasn't my church, and will keep looking for a spirital home.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Father Kermit's voice.
 
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