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||1395: St Columba, Oakland, California, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Hart.
The church: St Columba, Oakland, California, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Outside the building were 148 white crosses, one for each
Oakland homicide victim in the last year. Apparently, this
memorial has made quite an impact on the local community.
Inside, the narthex contains a very attractive holy water
font in marble, which is also used as the holder of hymn sheets. The marble theme continues with some very well-made stations of the
cross. The sanctuary looks a little strange: large, off-white
screens have been erected, blocking the view of (I presume) the
crucifix and the original altar.
The church: St. Columba's is well known among local area church musicians
for being the only local Catholic church to do exclusively Gospel
music. Through studying the bulletin, I discovered they are also involved in AIDS ministry and putting on social events,
including an upcoming chili bowl bingo night.
The neighborhood: The church is on the Berkeley Oakland border, near San Francisco.
It's quite a poor area in many ways, but quite a rich one in
churches, it seems: there's a Progressive Baptist and an Orthodox
Church in America within spitting distance.
The cast: Father Jayson Landeza celebrated, Assemblies of God minister
Pastor Kecia Sims preached, and Paul Daniels (no, British readers,
not the Paul Daniels) led the music.
The date & time: January 14th, 2007; 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Quite full, but it's a reasonably small church. Maybe 200-300.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone welcomed me before the Mass and afterwards my pew
neighbor welcomed me and we talked for a bit.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was pretty comfortable, as was the kneeler. A shame only two or
three people seemed to be making use of the comfortable kneelers
during the consecration.
How would you describe the pre-service
I'm used to hearing choirs practising when I turn up early to
Mystery Worship places, but here I came across six teenagers
practising a dance routine. A little different, but to their credit they
stopped rehearsing in enough time that most people could enter to
silence and pray.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning." The pianist opened and gave us a reflection on
the readings we were about to hear. We then sang a bit and
watched a dance performance before the Mass proper started.
What books did the congregation use during the
In the pews was a folded sheet giving the words of
the hymns, and a seasonal missalette, but woe betide
anyone unfamiliar with Catholic worship who was trying to use the
missalette to follow the Mass, as the liturgy had been badly twisted
out of shape. Large, important chunks were missed out which would
have completely foxed a newcomer. How terribly unwelcoming!
What musical instruments were played?
Piano and drums, both very well. Apparently, the church is
between choir directors at the moment, but the music was still
Did anything distract you?
I was at first distracted trying to work out who was the priest.
While the pianist was giving his reflection, I thought it might be
him, and that he was dressed in mufti for no particularly good reason,
but would vest during the opening hymn. I later worked out that
the man I'd thought was wearing a rather nifty poncho was in fact
wearing a completely inappropriate chasuble. Instead of just being
green, as it should be in Ordinary Time, it had a very complicated
and distracting (and completely non-green) print all over it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Definitely very informal. The congregation sometimes murmured
and sometimes shouted "Amen" when they liked something, and
they clapped lots.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Kecia Sims is certainly an engaging preacher. She was very energetic
(although didn't leave the ambo) and passionate-sounding but she
never really stayed on the same topic for long enough to actually
say anything about it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The problem was the lack of nutshell! She talked about celebration
and how God celebrates in truth; she included a little segment on
each of the three readings (though not the psalm); talked about
how Jesus had displayed virtuous obedience in listening to his
mother at the wedding at Cana; reflected how we're called to be
nurturers like Mary, especially those of us who are mothers; talked
about drug abuse, racism, sexism and the war in Iraq; her plans
for her 12 year-old son's future...
Which part of the service was like being in
I was expecting good music and I wasn't disappointed it was
amazing. Gospel is a style that lends itself equally well to
congregational singing and inspirational solos, and we got both.
The congregation were also very warm and welcoming.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The liturgical abuses were scandalous there's no other word for
it. The penitential act was scrapped, as was the creed; the peace
was repositioned to after the prayers of the faithful; the wine
was consecrated in a flagon and then poured into fragile-looking glasses after the consecration; the "deliver us, Lord,
from every evil..." was skipped; I could go on. As a Catholic, I
was embarrassed that Pentecostal minister Sims had preached
on her understanding of obedience as a virtue, but the priest of
my own church had decided to stick his middle finger up at the
Catholic Church with juvenile acts of disobedience at every turn.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People hung around, talking. My pew neighbor explained to me
that there was a fish fry after the service in the church hall after the
How would you describe the after-service
More fried and fishy than usual coffee, I imagine. Unfortunately, I
didn't have time to stay for lunch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 I'd gladly go again for a concert. As for worship, I suppose the
Mass was probably valid, so I'd go if I had absolutely no other
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Not particularly. I think this is the first report I've written in which I
haven't been able to answer that question positively. I actually felt
angry that this welcoming congregation with such talented
musicians were being subjected to this liturgical mess by their
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I hope I'll only remember the music and the welcoming
congregation. Unfortunately, I'll probably remember this as being
the first time I've ever not been able to receive communion at a
Mass due to being too angry.
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