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||1373: St Joseph the Worker, Berkeley, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Hart.
The church: St Joseph the Worker, Berkeley, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: A very nice classical revival building with a few touches
of Italianate and Spanish mission thrown in for good measure. The pinkish
exterior features twin towers and four white pilasters framing the west
door. In the church architecture wars, where traditionalists argue for long
narrow churches and modernists for short wide ones, this church seems to
have come out in the middle. Inside, the tabernacle takes center stage and
is flanked by white and gold angels. I couldn't quite see whether or not
the original high altar remained intact; mass was celebrated on a free-standing
altar that looked like it was a later addition – thanks be to God
it wasn't on wheels! Elsewhere around the church were some beautifully carved
stations and wonderful stained glass. There were also four fixed grille
confessionals, but no confessions were being heard.
The church: St Joseph's was Father Bill O'Donnell's church. Father
O'Donnell was a well known and much loved activist who spent his life standing
up for unpopular causes. He was once imprisoned for trespassing at the School
of the Americas, a Georgia institution whose critics claim offers instruction
in terrorist tactics, and on another occasion was arrested for blocking
traffic in San Francisco to protest the war in Iraq, among many other acts
of civil disobedience. Father O'Donnell died in 2003 while writing a sermon
at his desk. St Joseph's continues today in the tradition of social justice.
They hold regular lectures and collaborate with other nearby churches in
a group called Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), a non-profit,
faith based federation that empowers people to become activists for positive
change. St Joseph's has a large Hispanic presence – in fact, the mass
I attended was their Spanish mass. They also maintain a middle school and
host various social events.
The neighborhood: Berkeley is a moderately sized suburb of San Francisco.
It is home to the University of California at Berkeley, and also has its
share of industry, including the original Scharffenberger chocolate factory.
St Joseph's is in a residential neighborhood, only a short walk from the
downtown shopping and dining area.
The cast: I don't think the celebrant introduced himself (noteworthy
given his generally conversational style), but from the photo in the parish
school's newsletter I could recognize him as the Rev. Stephan Kappler, pastoral
administrator. He was assisted by a young man (late teens?) in an alb, a
reasonably sized collection of music ministers, lectors, eucharistic ministers
and (unfortunately) six different people who made after-mass announcements.
The date & time: First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2006, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Misa en español.
How full was the building?
Quite full. I sat toward the back so as to be better able to observe people,
and I was impressed that the front pews filled up before the back ones,
which were mainly taken by latecomers. Maybe 300 to 400 people in total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Before the mass started, Father popped up at the front and asked if there
were any visitors. Not wanting to make myself any more obvious than I already
had as the only blond-haired blue-eyed congregant in an otherwise completely
Hispanic gathering, I didn't put my hand up, but anyone who did was applauded.
After that, he encouraged us to introduce ourselves to our pewmates, and
the people on either side of me did introduce themselves and welcome me
(one in English, one in Spanish).
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew itself was nice, but the spacing of rows was a little tight, which
led to the girl behind me kicking my feet whenever I knelt.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet and prayerful. I think the children were quieter before mass than
they were during the homily.
What were the exact opening words of the
Father's pre-service jollies began with "Buenos días y bienvenido a
nuestra celebración eucharistica." The mass proper began with
"En el nombre del padre, y del hijo y del espiritu santo."
What books did the congregation use during the
Two books, one a bilingual missalette and the other a hymnal, both called
Unidos en Cristo.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar and (I think) a banjo. There was a choir loft and an organ, but neither
was used. The choir were very competent at leading congregational singing
and the mass setting was simple enough that I could pick it up as we went
along, but no one announced the hymn numbers so I had no idea of what page
to turn to in the hymnal.
Did anything distract you?
Not quite a distraction, but I was surprised at how few people received
communion (about half), although pretty much everyone who did received in
both kinds. Maybe those confessionals needed to be manned! As I was the
only one in my pew who went up to receive, I was somewhat unsure of the
choreography. I'd also forgotten about the common Roman Catholic practice
of taking up a second collection, as my parish doesn't do this, and so I
was a little embarrassed to be caught without change for it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
No smells or bells and fairly modern music (with the exception of Beethoven's
Ode to Joy used as a hymn tune for the recessional). The liturgy
was relaxed but still reverential. It was almost entirely faithful to the
Church's liturgical instructions, but I noted that ustedes was
used for informal you-plural, as is common in New World Spanish, instead
of vosotros which one hears in Spain.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Father left the sanctuary and stood at the front of the pews to
preach, occasionally wandering a few rows into the aisles. At one point
he forgot the Spanish word for something (I gather Spanish is a second language
for him) and asked the congregation for help; he dealt with this very well,
not losing composure, but using it as an opportunity for a little humor.
He also spoke slowly and clearly enough that I could just about follow along
despite my lack of full proficiency in Spanish. Full marks for style.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but also a general
time for change. The congregation could help bring about justice this Advent.
He gave examples of how BOCA helped people with citizenship applications,
promoted education, and worked to combat the AIDS epidemic.
Which part of the service was like being in
The lector who read the psalm had a very engaging, expressive style of reading
which I enjoyed hearing. It was also great to see the building so full and
to experience the friendliness and sense of community apparent in the context
of this reverential atmosphere.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The hymn numbers not being announced! Hymn boards were clearly visible,
but they were blank.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone pretty much left, but slowly. Some people outside the door were
handing out various leaflets, which slowed down the exodus even more. Once
outside, people stopped and chatted in the sun in front of the church. I
looked lost for a little bit and then toddled off to find some lunch.
How would you describe the after-service
There didn't seem to be any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I'd like at least to visit again. In fact, one of the announcements
was about a special liturgy involving their former bishop blessing their
new image of Our Lady of Guadalupe the following Saturday. I determined
to make an appearance.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. As this was my first experience worshipping in Spanish, I was especially
happy to share the eucharist with a new group of people and to be reminded
of how our worship transcends language.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That the pews filled up from the front!
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